The roster of early American humorists commonly begins with Mark Twain, but he was in good company. Nick Robertson, creator of the outstanding anagram fantasies, led me to the oeuvre of Corry O’Lanus (John Stanton, 1826–71).
As the Brooklyn Programme commented (Mark Twain’s letters, vol.2, p.45),
As a humorous writer Stanton has no equal in New York or Brooklyn. While his fun is not so boisterous as Artemus Ward’s, or so cutting and sarcastic as Orpheus C. Kerr’s, or so wildly burlesque as John Phoenix’s, there is a gentle ripple of pure fun about it—humor, in fact—which makes one hug himself (sic) with pleasure to read.
All this while their cohorts were decimating the native population… (see under Native American cultures).
The complete works of Josh Billings (Henry Shaw, 1818–85) are here; those of Artemus Ward (Charles Browne, 1834–67) here. On Ward’s 1866 visit to England he wrote for Punch and gave drole lectures:
Note also Orpheus Kerr (Robert Newell, 1836–1901) (works here), and John Phoenix (George Derby, 1823–61).
Such writings call to mind the great Flann O’Brien.
Left, portrait of Ann Stephens, c1844; right, Marietta Holley.
Nor should we neglect early female humorists. Antecedents of the great Dorothy Parker included Ann Stephens (1810–86) (links to her works here); Francis [Frances] Whitcher (1811–52); and Marietta Holley (1836–1926), aka Josiah Allen’s Wife (sic), who wrote on women’s rights and prohibition.
Among the wealth of later figures, on this blog I’ve dabbled in Groucho, Sid Caesar, Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen (here, here), and David Sedaris. Right now, Patricia Lockwood seems the most exceptional of all, her hilarious style and literary flair merely a vehicle for her insights.