Cal Stewart in his role of Uncle Josh Weathersby. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The twenty first century offers everyone endless opportunities to be entertained. Movies, television, computers, smart phones, and even virtual reality devices that put one almost anywhere in the world, performing almost any feat of daring—I once stood in the attic where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis, virtually, of course. A century or so ago that wasn’t the case—folks had to rely on themselves or people around them for entertainment. During the nineteenth century, a revival meeting, a traveling circus, or a lecturer drew large crowds, especially in rural areas. People liked to laugh, so the humorist became popular—men such as Artemus Ward and Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) were big draws. They would travel from town to town by rail, hire a hall, put up playbills, and the residents of the town, as well as those from miles around would flock to see their humorous monologs.
Late in the 1800s a new face came on the scene, a man named Cal Stewart who specialized in comic monologs where he pretended to be Uncle Josh Weathersby, a homespun character who lived in an imaginary New England village named, “Punkin Center.”
One of Stewart’s stage monologs was titled: “Uncle Josh on a Bicycle,” and was included in a book called “Uncle Josh’s Punkin Center Stories,” which may be found on Gutenberg.
“Along last summer Ruben Hoskins, that is Ezra Hoskins' boy, he cum home from college and bro't one of them new fangled bisickle masheens hum with him, and I think ever since that time the whole town of Punkin Centre has got the bisickle fever. Old Deacon Witherspoon he's bin a-ridin' a bisickle to Sunday school, and Jim Lawson he couldn't ride one of them 'cause he's got a wooden leg; but he jist calculated if he could git it hitched up to the mowin' masheen, he could cut more hay with it than any man in Punkin Centre. Somebody sed Si Pettingill wuz tryin' to pick apples with a bisickle.
“Wall, all our boys and girls are ridin' bisickles now, and nothin' would do but I must learn how to ride one of them. Wall, I didn't think very favorably on it, but in order to keep peace in the family I told them I would learn. Wall, gee whilikee, by gum. I wish you had bin thar when I commenced. I took that masheen by the horns and I led it out into the middle of the road, and I got on it sort of unconcerned like, and then I got off sort of unconcerned like. Wall, I sot down a minnit to think it over, and then the trouble commenced. I got on that durned masheen and it jumped up in the front and kicked up behind, and bucked up in the middle, and shied and balked and jumped sideways, and carried on worse 'n a couple of steers the fust time they're yoked. Wall, I managed to hang on fer a spell, and then I went up in the air and cum down all over that bisickle. I fell on top of it and under it and on both sides of it; I fell in front of the front wheel and behind the hind wheel at the same time. Durned if I know how I done it but I did. I run my foot through the spokes, and put about a hundred and fifty punctures in a hedge fence, and skeered a hoss and buggy clar off the highway. I done more different kinds of tumblin' than any cirkus performer I ever seen in my life, and I made more revolutions in a fifteen-foot circle than any buzz-saw that ever wuz invented. Wall, I lost the lamp, I lost the clamp, I lost my patience, I lost my temper, I lost my self-respect, my last suspender button and my standin' in the community. I broke the handle bars, I broke the sprockets, I broke the ten commandments, I broke my New Year's pledge and the law agin loud and abusive language, and Jim Lawson got so excited he run his wooden leg through a knot-hole in the porch and couldn't git it out agin. Wall, I'm through with it; once is enough fer me. You kin all ride your durned old bisickles that want to, but fer my part I'd jist as soon stand up and walk as to sit down and walk. No more bisickles fer your Uncle Josh, not if he knows it, and your Uncle Josh sort of calculates as how he do.”
I actually think Uncle Josh was a whole lot funnier than most of the standup comedians on Comedy Central today. But, I guess that’s just me.