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The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County

by Mark Twain

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Give examples of various forms of comedy in "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."

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The story's first paragraph is a confession by the narrator that he had been duped. This kind of self-effacing humor is universally amusing, as it is human nature to laugh at oneself and invite others to join in the amusement.

Twain's use of Western dialect is also amusing. The first...

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sentence that Simon Wheeler utters is a lengthy run-on, as are many subsequent ones, and they are peppered with humorous, nonstandard words like "feller," and "curiosest." The list of things that Jim Smiley would bet on are comical for their absurdity: cat fights, chicken fights, or simply where a straddle bug would go; Wheeler says "and if you took him up, he would foller that straddle-bug to Mexico." The fact that Simon Wheeler is a large individual who turns his chair to trap the narrator in a corner makes for some comicalimagery, as does Smiley's bull pup who is described as having an "underjaw...[that would] stick out like the fo'castle of a steamboat."

There is a bit of satirical humor with regard to President Andrew Jackson, who at the time of the story's writing had been dead for twenty years. Jackson had been a polarizing president for his views on the expansion of slavery and forced relocation of American Indians. Jim Smiley's bull pup is named Andrew Jackson, and the fact that the dog lost a fight and then slunk off and died might say something darkly humorous about the way Jackson is, or ought to be, remembered.

The exaggeration, or hyperbole, in Simon Wheeler's story also makes for a comic effect. Turning the frog, Dan'l Webster, upside down and having five pounds of shot fall out is impossible, but quite funny.

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In the famous short story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" by Mark Twain, the narrator visits a tavern to inquire about a man named Leonidas W. Smiley. Instead, the old tavern keeper, Simon Wheeler, in a humorous feat of misdirection, proceeds to narrate a series of tall tales about a person named Jim Smiley, who loved to bet on just about anything and at various times owned a horse that always won races, a bull pup that always won dog fights, and a frog that always won jumping contests. In the end, a stranger outsmarts Smiley by filling his frog's belly full of quail shot.

Twain offers examples of several forms of comedy in this story. First of all, Wheeler's delivery of his story about Jim Smiley can be referred to as deadpan humor, because, as the narrator explains, he presents it without expression.

He never smiled, he never frowned, he never changed his voice from the gentle-flowing key to which he tuned the initial sentence, he never betrayed the slightest suspicion of enthusiasm ...

Wheeler's account of Smiley's activities is also an example of droll humor, which means that it is eccentric or capricious.

The stories that Wheeler relates about Smiley can be described as anecdotal humor. According to TheMerriam-Webster Dictionary, an anecdote is "a usually short narrative of an interesting, amusing, or biographical incident." Anecdotal humor is humor based upon personal stories that may or may not be true. This certainly fits Wheeler's stories about Smiley.

Hyperbolic humor is humor based upon details that are highly exaggerated. Twain gives numerous examples of this in Wheeler's depictions of Smiley's penchant for betting and the strange animals that Smiley owned.

Farcical humor and screwball humor are similar in that they both derive their humorous effects by employing improbable events and frantic action. Twain uses these types of humor when Wheeler tells the final anecdote about the contest between the jumping frogs. The stranger wins the contest, takes his money, and immediately leaves. Smiley wonders what is wrong.

And he ketched Dan'l by the nap of the neck, and lifted him up and says, "Why blame my cats, if he don't weigh five pound!" and turned him upside down, and he belched out a double handful of shot. And then he see how it was, and he was the maddest man - he set the frog down and took out after that feller, but he never ketched him.

We can see, then, that Twain does use various forms of comedy in this hilarious story.

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A master of comedy, Mark Twain employs several comic devices in his short story "The Celebrated Frog of Calaversas County."


In his description of Jim Smiley, Simon Wheeler exaggerates the man's propensity to bet on anything, declaring,

"If he even see a straddle bug start to go anywheres, he would bet you how long it would take him to get to--to wherever he was going to, and you took him up, he would foller that straddle bug to Mexico but what he would find out where he was bound for and how long he was on the road."

Simon Wheeler certainly uses obvious exaggerations in his description of his frog's talents.  For instance, he says,

"You never see a frog so modest and straightor'ard as he was, for all he was so gifted."

Smiley said all a frog wanted [needed] was education, and he could do 'most anything.

In describing Simon Wheeler, the narrator himself uses hyperbole:

...he regarded it [his story] as a really important matter, and admired its two heroes as men of transcendent genius in finesse.....


One obvious comparison that is humorous is the name of the frog belonging to Simon Wheeler:  Daniel Webster, one of America's leading statesmen.

Jim Smiley has a dog without hind legs named after a president:  Andrew Jackson.


The description of Jim Smiley's dog whose legs were cut off by a circular saw that Smiley insists upon betting on until the dog "give Smiley a look, as much as to say his heart was broke, and it was his fault...."

The most humorous situation occurs as the opponent to Simon Wheeler, Jim Smiley, out tricks Wheeler by "fill[ing] him pretty near up to his chin..." with quailshot.

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