Humor often feels in short supply amid the hyperpolarization, loneliness, and resentment presently afflicting our polity. Fortunately, H.W. Brands – the Jack S. Blanton Senior Chair in History at the University of Texas, Austin – has much to share about the joke-telling chops of American presidents, the funny bone of the American people, and the serious role of humor in American democracy.

On Thursday, February 7, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum, and the Hauenstein Center at Grand Valley State University partnered to host Professor Brands, author of thirty books and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, for yet another captivating and enlightening presentation. By number of visits, he remains the most popular guest speaker of the longstanding Ford-Hauenstein partnership.

With characteristic ambition and peerless style, Brands deftly guided an audience of more than 400 community members through a crash course on humor and the presidency, from George Washington to Donald Trump, titled “Comedian-in-Chief: What Presidents’ Humor Says about Them, and about Us.” His packed audience in Grand Rapids was the first to hear his thoughts on this important subject, as Brands considers the possibility of a new book project.

Content and photos courtesy of the Hauenstein Center at Grand Valley State University

H.W. Brands “Comedian-in-Chief"

H.W. Brands biography
Dr. H. W. Brands was born in Portland, Oregon, where he lived until he went to California for college. He attended Stanford University and studied history and mathematics. After graduating he became a traveling salesman, with a territory that spanned the West from the Pacific to Colorado. His wanderlust diminished after several trips across the Great Basin, and he turned to sales of a different sort, namely teaching.

For nine years he taught mathematics and history in high school and community college. Meanwhile he resumed his formal education, earning graduate degrees in mathematics and history, concluding with a doctorate in history from the University of Texas at Austin. He worked as an oral historian at the University of Texas Law School for a year, then became a visiting professor of history at Vanderbilt University. In 1987 he joined the history faculty at Texas A&M University, where he taught for seventeen years. In 2005 he returned to the University of Texas, where he holds the Jack S. Blanton Sr. Chair in History.

He has written twenty-five books, coauthored or edited five others, and published dozens of articles and scores of reviews. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the International Herald Tribune, the Boston Globe, the Atlantic Monthly, the Smithsonian, the National Interest, the American Historical Review, the Journal of American History, the Political Science Quarterly, American History, and many other newspapers, magazines and journals. His writings have received critical and popular acclaim. The First American and Traitor to His Class were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize and the Los Angeles Times Prize. Several of his books have been bestsellers.

Brands is a member of various honorary societies, including the Society of American Historians and the Philosophical Society of Texas. He is a regular guest on national radio and television programs, and is frequently interviewed by the American and foreign press. His writings have been published in several countries and translated into German, French, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

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