Monday's book; Because I Tell a Joke or Two Stephen Wagg (editor) Routledge, pounds 12.99

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In general, academic studies of humour are about as hilarious as The Divine Comedy. Though this rag-bag of 15 essays on "comedy, politics and social difference" doesn't avoid the jargon-laden opacities of cultural studies ("Sid James and Barbara Windsor

Two highlights are the contributions by C P Lee, formerly of the band Alberto y Los Trios Paranoios, now a star turn in the media department at Salford University. One is an exploration of the "empowering" verbal fireworks of the Marx Brothers, the other an appreciation of Frank Randall, regarded by many (including George Melly) as the great forgotten comic genius of this century. Wonderfully vulgar, Randall revelled in dangerously anarchic mayhem, continually alarming the authorities. He burned down a hotel where he received bad service, fired a revolver at an annoying extra on a film set and bombarded Blackpool with toilet rolls from a hired plane after a conviction for obscenity. (The patter that caused such grave offence included the line: "There's a flea loose in the harem and the favourite will have to be scratched.")

Not all contributions are as celebratory. Laraine Porter sets the tone for her angry investigation into female comic stereotypes with its unfortunate title: "Tarts, Tampons and Tyrants". However, there is no denying her perception that the stereotypical "giggly, busty blonde" of British comedy conforms to "rigid, male-defined images of gravity-defying physical perfection". Meanwhile, the likes of Sid James "can sport a face like a bag of spanners and still represent male desirability".

Frances Williams offers a feisty exploration of lesbian comics, though her attempt to conscript Absolutely Fabulous to the gay cause is unpersuasive. Similarly, Mark Simpson's insistence that "Morecambe and Wise exhibited more signifiers of homosexuality than a Soho queer pub" fails to recognise the duo's child-like otherworldliness.

It is unfortunate that the editor ascribes the cliched axiom "No one can ever be too thin or too rich" to the Duchess of Windsor. It was coined by the New York style queen Diana Vreeland.