Making ‘em laugh: Which Hall of Fame winners best incorporate comedy?

By Michael Grossberg

Everyone has their favorites among the fiction works that have won the Prometheus Hall of Fame for Best Classic Fiction.

And by everyone, I mean virtually everyone – since at least some of the 46 winning works are enjoyed by libertarians and non-libertarians alike, and by both science fiction/fantasy fans and those who don’t often read that genre.

But how many rank the comedies that high?

Sadly, comedy tends to be disvalued compared to tragedy or drama in most awards, from the Oscars to the Tony awards. Perhaps even, to some extent, in the Prometheus Awards.

And that makes some sense: Many of the most widely acclaimed Prometheus Hall of Fame winners achieve their powerful and poignant impact via seriously intense dramatics.

Among them: George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-FourRay Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the RingsUrsula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed and Ayn Rand’s Anthem, to name just a few.

Far fewer Hall of Fame winners incorporate humor to varying degrees.

Among them: Eric Frank Russell’s The Great ExplosionCyril Kornbluth’s The Syndic, J. Neil Schulman’s Alongside Night, Patrick McGoohan’s innovative and surreal 1960s TV series The Prisoner, and quite a few of Robert Heinlein’s winners, from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress to Time Enough for Love (for Heinlein’s zestful sense of adventure was often alloyed with humor).

Even Ayn Rand’s otherwise very serious Atlas Shrugged is often embroidered with comic touches. (For ample evidence of the latter, read the section of my Prometheus appreciation that focuses on how Rand focuses on humor, especially in regard to her names for villains.)

FIVE COMEDY FAVORITES
But of the Prometheus Hall of Fame-winning works of fiction that do incorporate humor, only a handful could be accurately and primarily categorized as comedies.

Of the comedies or comic adventures that appeal repeatedly to our sense of humor, which Hall of Fame winners make you laugh the most – and why? (Please share your favorites in the comments.)

Of all the Prometheus Hall of Fame winners, here are the five comedy stand-outs, in my view, with a proven track record of tickling our funny bones:

* The Illuminatus! trilogy, by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea, inducted in 1986 into the Prometheus Hall of Fame.

* “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” by Hans Christian Anderson, the 2000 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner

* Animal Farm, by George Orwell, the 2011 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner

* “Harrison Bergeron,” by Kurt Vonnegut, the 2019 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner

* “Lipidleggin’,” by F. Paul Wilson, the 2021 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner

Even with just five “comedy favorite” picks above, that’s notably more comic works than can be found, in my opinion, on the list of the Prometheus Best Novel winners, which I previously analyzed for comedy in a recent blog.

IS SHORTER FUNNIER?

That may be partly because the Hall of Fame encompasses novels, novellas, stories, films, TV shows and other forms of fiction – and comedy tends to be far easier to sustain in shorter forms, such as stories and novellas, than at novel-length.

That also has a lot to do with why, on television, most comedies tend to be half-hour shows while most dramas tend to be hour-long.

A similar trend can be detected in movies: Most feature-film comedies tend to be notably shorter, running often 80 or 90 to 100 minutes – and rarely over two hours. Film dramas, meanwhile, traditionally run around or at least two hours long – and in recent years, more and more are running 2½, three hours or even 3½ hours long.

Yikes!

But a good laugh is short and sharp.

Humor can get to the point quickly, with an immediate payment.

It can accent a moment – and make your day.

Just by “making ‘em laugh.”

And more often than not, making a quick point or reinforcing a libertarian or anti-authoritarian theme through humor can be just as effective, if not more, as slowly building tension and suspense through drama.

Both comedy and drama can be rewarding. But sometimes, you need a release – and you’ve gotta laugh! So these Prometheus winners should help.

Note: See a previous Prometheus Blog post examining the most amusing and comical winners in the Prometheus Best Novel category.

 

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE:

* Prometheus winners: For the full list of Prometheus winners, finalists and nominees – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website, which now includes convenient links to the full set of published appreciation-reviews of past winners.

* Read “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction,” an essay in the international magazine Quillette that favorably highlights the Prometheus Awards, the Libertarian Futurist Society and the significant element of libertarian sf/fantasy in the evolution of the modern genre.

Watch  videos of the 2022 Prometheus ceremony with Best Novel winner Wil McCarthy (Rich Man’s Sky),and past Prometheus Awards ceremonies, Libertarian Futurist Society panel discussions with noted sf authors and leading libertarian writers, and other LFS programs on the Prometheus Blog’s Video page.

Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit all-volunteer association of freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans.

Libertarian futurists believe that culture matters! We understand that the arts and literature can be vital, and in some ways even more powerful than politics in the long run, by sparking innovation, better ideas, positive social change, and mutual respect for each other’s rights and differences.

Through recognizing the literature of liberty and the many different but complementary visions of a free future via the Prometheus Awards, the LFS hopes to help spread better visions of the future that help humanity overcome tyranny, slavery and war and achieve universal liberty and human rights and a better world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.

Published by

Michael Grossberg

Michael Grossberg, who founded the LFS in 1982 to help sustain the Prometheus Awards, has been an arts critic, speaker and award-winning journalist for five decades. Michael has won Ohio SPJ awards for Best Critic in Ohio and Best Arts Reporting (seven times). He's written for Reason, Libertarian Review and Backstage weekly; helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades; and has contributed to six books, including critical essays for the annual Best Plays Theatre Yearbook and an afterword for J. Neil Schulman's novel The Rainbow Cadenza. Among books he recommends from a libertarian-futurist perspective: Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist & How Innovation Works, David Boaz's The Libertarian Mind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.

2 thoughts on “Making ‘em laugh: Which Hall of Fame winners best incorporate comedy?”

  1. Good point. I agree that Animal Farm is a rather dark satire.
    But I also found parts of it quite funny, in an ironic and perverse way, when I first read Orwell’s classic anti-authoritarian (and notably anti-egalitarian!) fable as a teenager.
    I think, with some parental guidance, that Animal Farm is an excellent book for teenagers to read – before they go on to read Orwell’s even darker Nineteen Eighty-Four.

  2. I have to say that I don’t remotely think that Animal Farm is a comedy, or even humorous. It’s a beast fable, meaning that it’s using animal characters to make a moral point; but its moral point is ultimately a grim one, and even bitter. I suppose it might be called satire, but satire and comedy are very different literary creatures. In some ways Animal Farm might even be said to be closer to tragedy, inviting us to feel pity (as for Boxer, the horse who genuinely believes in revolution) and terror (at the ultimate enslavement of all the animals except the pigs).
    If I wanted to retain a list of five, I would replace it with The Great Explosion, a fixup novel assembled from stories all of which were humorous.

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