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Bronwen Maddox introduces Prospect's December issue

When Tom Lehrer stopped writing satirical songs in the 1970s, he explained that “today everything just makes me angry, it’s not funny anymore,” and retreated to teaching mathematics at the University of California. It might be tempting to agree that the times are unremittingly serious. Radio 4’s Today programme recently asked whether a year of bad news was causing us to lose hope.

But not humour. As Sam Leith argues, the British sense of what is comic thrives in dark times. The

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