Even from the beginning of his career as a writer, Mark Twain was not only a mere literary comedian. Starting with his first writings, the Mark Twain humor had a sarcastic tone and at times even a bitter edge which employed to ridicule the irrationality and faults of the human race. The feature that actually made him so appealing among races, nationalities and different social classes, is his humor, in particular, his social satire, which is the foundation of his relevance nowadays.
However, he insisted that the secret of his worldwide success as a humorist was not merely his humor. He explained that he did not write a comic work to be only funny; instead, his work had a serious truth and way of thinking as its basis. Thus, the Mark Twain humor did not only make him an American icon, it also made him a revolutionary writer.
The Mark Twain humor is achieved by using every technique known and employed by other humorists: burlesque, farce, irony, analogy, exaggeration, parody, absurdity, eye dialect, puns, low comedy, high comedy, wordplay, travesty, satire, understatement, slapstick and other techniques. One is able to understand his work only if they are highly familiar with the vocabulary used to produce humor. The only one who can surpass him is probably William Shakespeare. Anyone who wants to write humor must read and study Mark Twain’s work. In Mark Twain’s humor there are used predominantly three humorous techniques that seem to be his favorite ones and his most captivating, as well. These are: anticlimax, exaggeration and understatement.
An anticlimax is a figure of speech (the opposite of climax) in which a series of sentences or phrases is arranged in ascending order of rhetorical power and culminates at the point of lowest point of dramatic tension. In essence, anticlimax is the rapid turn of a sentence into an unpredicted direction. These types of sentences are characteristic to Mark Twain’s writings. Exaggeration was considered by English critics the essence of American humor and Mark Twain humor was full of exaggeration. A famous exaggerated elevated story is present in his Roughing It.
The Mark Twain humor was so appreciated that they even named an award after the 19th century humorist, novelist and essayist – the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which is the primary award for humor and has been awarded annually since 1998 by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. This award is offered to individuals who have made an important contribution to American humor. Some of the recipients of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor are: Whoopi Goldberg in 2001, Steve Martin in 2005, Billy Crystal in 2007, Will Ferrell in 2011, Ellen DeGeneres in 2012, etc.