I am dying to be on a panel at the Twain/Tolstoy symposium at Boston University late this summer. This morning, I'm writing and submitting an abstract to speak on Mark Twain's wit as a representative of The Mark Twain House. I'm hoping that my day to day operations at the Twain House, my MFA in Writing, my recent grant, and the shocking fact that I am now a semi-professional improviser (we do get paid, after all) will add up to a new and simple fact in my life: I might be an expert on this topic. It is strange to think that I might be an expert in anything at all-- I am so often the least-informed person in the room. But I traffic in wit now. I use wit to entertain and contribute to Hartford's revival; I work with the wittiest team that ever was; I am employed because of a writer who we only remember because of his incredible wit during his lifetime. My academic interests have always been wit-related (anybody remember me waxing about Oscar Wilde?) and I have informally been making a study of wit in pop culture in order to improve my improv. I seem to be taking wit a little too seriously.
The academic question is: what is wit? As I work on this abstract, I notice that wit is usally in tandem with either wisdom or brevity (thanks, Shakespeare). I believe that both of these are true, that wit derives from intelligent observation, and that there are quite a few more subtlties I will think about all day. Can't wait.