Students who attended “How Funny do Americans Talk” on the evening of Oct. 22 were in for a rare treat as impersonator and historian John “Chuck” Chalberg presented America through the eyes of H.L. Mencken.
In a presentation sponsored by the History Department and the H.L. Mencken society, Chalberg introduced his audience to the journalist, satirist, and historian H.L. Mencken and his book “The American Language.”
Known for his biting satire, Mencken lived during both world wars and was highly critical of the United States’ alliance with England. He is famous for quips such as “Puritanism: the haunting fear that someone somewhere may be happy.”
Chalberg’s speech described Mencken’s childhood and education as well as the beginning of his career in journalism.
“I wanted to be a newspaperman. Took me a while, but I got a job,” Chalberg said, as Mencken. “Suddenly, I was at large in a wicked seaport city with half a million people.”
During the war, Mencken’s views were unpopular, according to Chalberg, so he set out to make a book on the American Language, in which he detailed the colloquialisms of the American people.
“Why did I write it? My chief excuse was simply one of human interest and entertainment,” Chalberg said as Mencken.
“After all,” he continued, “Why should we Americans ever permit any perpetuation of the curious notion that our language is merely on loan from England?”
Chalberg began playing Mencken while he was attending grad school and teaching U.S. History.
“I started doing Mencken for students, I think for the humor and the insight,” Chalberg said.
Mencken’s character has proven to be a particular challenge for Chalberg since recordings of him talking are very rare.
“Right before he suffered a stroke late in ’48, Mencken gave an interview to somebody on the Baltimore Sun, and that interview is recorded, and that’s all I have that I know exists,” Chalberg said.
In addition to performing as Mencken, Chalberg has taken on well-loved characters as Teddy Roosevelt and Branch Rickey in the past and has even performed as G.K. Chesterton for a Hillsdale convocation ceremony.
Distinguished Associate Professor of History Darryl Hart attended the lecture and said he appreciated Mencken’s characteristic wit and satire.
“I do wish we had Mencken around to write about COVID, the virus, and the government’s response right now,” Hart said.
“It wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I was just expecting a formal talk, not an impersonation,” said sophomore Kathryn Luke. “I truly enjoyed it.”