Cheap Laffs: the history of the gag

Mark Newgarden's remarkable "Cheap Laffs: The Art of the Novelty Item" is worth far more than the price of admission. Of course, the bulk of the book is a lovely, arch, witty illustrated encyclopedia of mid-century gags from fake dog-shit to humorous toilet-seat covers; each one gives a capsule history of the gag, notes on material and construction and sometimes even little quotes from the founding fathers of the golden age of gags.

But beyond the encyclopedia, there's a truly outstanding introduction that tells the colorful, fascinating story of the gag, stories of intense rivalries between immigrant entrepreneurs of the last century, squabbles over who invented rubber puke, and the early regulation of sneezing powder. These were deeply weird people, but charming, and Newgarden's capsule history of gagdom is like a window into a better world.