Documentary Editing, Association for


Date of this Version


Document Type



Documentary Editing: Journal of the Association for Documentary Editing, Volume 30, Numbers 1 and 2: 2008 ISSN 0196-7134


© 2008 The Association for Documentary Editing. Used by permission.


Is editing humor different from editing political correspondence, personal letters, journals, and the materials that most documentary editors deal with? Transcription surely is the same, but what about annotation? When I asked three editors to present papers on the subject, they were reluctant to do so because they didn’t think they did anything differently than editors whose subjects are less funny. But it seemed to me that there would be differences. Humor is often topical and very much tied to its time: any script of The Daily Show resurrected fifty years from now would require a lot of explanation. Does the annotation need to provide more context than is needed for other kinds of documents? And if you do supply context, how do you keep it from bogging down the humor? We have all had the experience of hearing someone explain why a joke is funny, and that spells the end of any humor the joke might have had. The panelists—Ellen R. Cohn, editor of the Benjamin Franklin Papers; Robert Hirst, general editor of the Mark Twain Papers; and Steven Gragert, director of the Will Rogers Memorial Museums—answered these questions, as well as some that I hadn’t thought to ask.