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The Benchley Roundup: A Selection by Nathaniel Benchley of His Favorites

by Robert Benchley Nathaniel Benchley

Foreword ONE time, during the recent war, an Air Force sergeant accosted Robert Benchley in a bar and, with little or no preamble, said, "I might as well tell you that I don't like your work." Benchley replied that he had moments of doubt himself, and the sergeant then explained that he had hitched a ride from Africa to Italy on a cargo plane, and that the only available sleeping space had been on bags that were full of overseas editions of Benchley's books. By the time they passed Sicily, the man said, he was so stiff and sore that he hoped never to hear the name Benchley again. "Try it yourself sometime," he concluded. "That stuff isn't funny when you have to sleep on it." In somewhat the same way, I would suggest that The Benchley Roundup be read piecemeal rather than in one lump-picked up and put down as though you were waiting for a telephone call, or for guests to arrive-because, after all, the pieces had their original appeal as separate entities. In making my selection from about a thousand previously published pieces, I read in fits and starts over a long period of time. Many people have tried to analyze Robert Benchley's particular form of humor, and I would be the last one to add my tiny voice to that of the throng, because I don't think it can be analyzed. It is sometimes mad, sometimes penetrating, and sometimes based on nothing more than word associations, and the only generalization that can be made with any degree of certainty is that it is different- or, if you will, unique. So let's just leave it that the humorous pieces collected here, written between 1915 and 1945, are those which seem to stand up best over the years. There were some that were much admired when they first appeared, but were based on premises that now seem a little soft; others were glorious in part but evaporated when taken as a whole; and all these have been left out in an attempt to select the most durable. Another compiler might have picked an entirely different group, but that would have been his worry. These are the ones that I like best, and beyond that there isn't much more I ought to say. -Nathaniel Benchley

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