'Punch' out

April 07, 1992

Punch, the satirical weekly founded in London in 1841, will produce its last issue this week. It is losing too much money to be funny.

Punch was irreverent, sardonic, mild, subtle, gentle, tasteful and upper class. Humor is alive and well but it tends to be vulgar, crass, loud and insistent, as well as irreverent, sardonic and cutting. Punch could not compete on those terms and be Punch. Some said it ceased being Punch years ago.

In its day, Punch was the greatest repository of cartoons anywhere. Its American imitator of the 1920s, the New Yorker, dealt with the problems of aging readership and over-awing reputation by becoming long-winded and serious. Punch didn't. It was frivolous and lightweight to the end. But it also attracted great writers, some of whom produced laughter worthy of any anthology. Its political commentary also could cut with a stiletto rather than with a tabloid sledgehammer.

Some risk-taker might find a way to revive Punch. But it can only live as a creature of its times. Humor has to be of today. Or it isn't humor.

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