Edmund Wilson, Jr. (essay date 1922)
[Wilson was an American poet, essayist, lecturer, editor, and social and literary critic. In the following review of Of All Things! he lauds Benchley's wit and suggests that his satire ought to be more sharply focused on issues of wider societal concern.]
Mr. Benchley's collected burlesques are, of course, exceedingly funny: they are a little like Stephen Leacock, but more urbane than Leacock. Mr. Benchley, if he has not the force of Mr. Leacock's violent and barbarous imagination, has not developed Mr. Leacock's vice of making five bad gags to one good one. He nearly always makes you laugh and he never makes you ill—which is high praise for an American humorist.
But it is not of Mr. Benchley's farces that I propose to speak in this review. Indeed, if he were only an Irvin Cobb, there would be no reason to review him at all. But there is a phase of Mr. Benchley—(and of the humorists of whom he is the leader)—which has a certain intellectual importance and which might have a great deal more. They are perhaps unconscious of it but it is nevertheless true that Mr. Benchley and his companions amount to something like an antidote to the patent medicines administered by the popular magazines. The great function which they perform is making Business look ridiculous. It is not enough that people should laugh at Mr. Addison Sims of Seattle: they must also learn to laugh, as Mr. Benchley teaches them to, at Window Card Psychology and the Woonsocket Wrought Iron Pipe—nor must they forget Mr. Joseph L. Gonnick and his Cantilever Bridges. Mr. Benchley's burlesques of Business and...
(The entire section is 669 words.)