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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


Books by Debra Hamel:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
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Epstein, Lawrence J.: Mixed Nuts

  Amazon  

4 stars

In his highly readable book Mixed Nuts, author Lawrence Epstein tracks the history of the comedy team from its origin in minstrel shows, through vaudeville, radio, and film, to its current incarnation in television sitcoms. Along the way Epstein discusses a host of old favorites--from Burns and Allen to Laurel and Hardy, Hope and Crosby to Martin and Lewis--as well as many teams readers will probably never have heard of. The book provides brief accounts of the teams' backgrounds and history, sometimes quoting material from their acts (Epstein provides, for example, a version of Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First," which was a pleasure to read), and explaining the teams' appeal given the social milieu of their eras. Gracie Allen's likeable character, for example, a non-threatening woman who maintained her dignity despite her trademark illogic, was "a perfect symbol for women caught between Victorian morality and modern mores." Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden, struggling to afford the accoutrements of middle-class life in the post-War period, appealed to an audience that was striving for, or had only recently achieved, similar goals. Comedy teams were affected not only by the historical circumstances of their times, of course, but more specifically by technological change. The advent of radio, free entertainment for the masses, is said to have killed vaudeville, but old vaudeville stars who could adapt to the new medium--whose rate of delivery was right for performance on air, whose humor did not depend on visual cues and appealed to a broad audience--teams such as Burns and Allen, thrived in radio.

Epstein's account of the comedy team is a quick and absorbing read. Though it is the product of a mountain of research, including dozens of interviews (with the likes of Jerry Stiller, Sid Caesar, and Soupy Sales), the book wears its erudition lightly. Mixed Nuts is filled with interesting bits of information, from the poignant--the tragic death of Lou Costello's infant son--to the just plain neat: Homer Simpson owes his "D'oh," for example, to Laurel and Hardy. Most importantly, however, in tracking the development of the comedy team, and in identifying for readers the strands that link current comedy teams--such as Frasier and Niles Crane of the sitcom Frasier--to their comic forbears, Epstein enriches our appreciation of comedians present and past.

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