Repetition is a mighty power in the domain of humor. I undertook to prove the truth of this forty years ago in San Francisco on the occasion of my second attempt at lecturing. My first lecture had succeeded to my satisfaction. Then I prepared another one but was afraid of it because the first fifteen minutes of it was not humorous. I felt the necessity of preceding it with something which would break up the house with a laugh and get me on pleasant and friendly terms with it at the start.
San Francisco had been persecuted for five or six years with a silly and pointless and unkillable anecdote which everybody had long ago grown weary of — weary unto death. I resolved to begin my lecture with it, and keep on repeating it until the mere repetition should conquer the house and make it laugh. I began with a description of my first day in the overland coach; then I said: “At a little ’dobie station out on the plains, next day, a man got in and after chatting along pleasantly for a while he said, ‘I can tell you a most laughable thing indeed, if you would like to listen to it. Horace Greeley went over this road once. When he was leaving Carson City he told the driver, Hank Monk, that he had an engagement to lecture at Placerville and was very anxious to go through quick. Hank Monk cracked his whip and started off at an awful pace. The coach bounced up and down in such a terrific way that it jolted the buttons all off of Horace’s coat and finally shot his head clean through the roof of the stage, and then he yelled at Hank Monk and begged him to go easier — said he warn’t in as much of a hurry as he was a while ago. But Hank Monk said, “Keep your seat, Horace, I’ll get you there on time!” — and you bet he did, too, what was left of him!’ ”