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Humor Columnist to Speak at February 6, 2020 AGT Meeting

The following is a recent review of Sam Venable’s latest book, The Joke’s on You, by Knoxville News Sentinel sports columnist John Adams.

Sam Venable has written a new book.

News Sentinel executive editor Joel Christopher delivered that news to me with the kind of enthusiasm usually reserved for a breaking story of national interest or taco day in the newsroom.

I didn’t share Joel’s enthusiasm since I regard “Sam Venable has written a new book” as newsworthy as “Sam Venable has caught another fish,” or “Sam Venable has killed another animal.”

He’s prolific in all his pursuits.

I can vouch for his writing, which has graced the News Sentinel pages for decades. He’s a talented columnist and author.

Given all the time he has devoted to hunting and fishing, I’m sure he’s adept at those, too. But I’m not about to spend five minutes with him in a duck blind or even watch from binocular distance as he implements a covert attack on Bambi.

But Joel had a follow-up.

“I thought you would be the ideal person to write about Sam’s new book,” he said.

A single thought raced through my mind as fast as Sam can pull a trigger: “Are you serious? Do you also want me to write about the turkey Sam most recently called to slaughter? Football season is a busy time for me.”

But the thought never reached my lips. Since Joel ranks far above me in Gannett’s grand pecking order, I summoned my whiniest tone and said something along the lines of: “Well, I guess I will if I can find the time.”

So here I am in the middle of a “Sam Venable writes another book,” column.

An example of the jokes compiled in his latest book: “Everything is a matter of perspective. Once, I entered a contest with only one other person. I came in second. That made me feel awful ’till it dawned on me the other guy finished second to last.”

Another example: “Miss Illa, the Sunday school teacher, asked little Freddie if his family said prayers before every meal.

The jokes are funny and plentiful. But if you have ever read Sam’s column or another one of his books, you know he doesn’t need a joke book to make you laugh.

I first encountered Sam’s humor when I interviewed for the sports columnist’s job at the News Sentinel. I was one of two finalists when I had lunch with then-executive editor Harry Moskos and Sam at Club LeConte.

Later, after I had accepted the job, Sam was nice enough to tell me that he favored the other finalist. I think he was kidding.

While I appreciate Sam’s writing and sense of humor, I’m not so sure about his intellect.

He first joined the News Sentinel as an outdoor editor in 1970. For someone who enjoys hunting and fishing, there’s no better job on earth than outdoor editor. The rest of the newsroom can go weeks without ever seeing an outdoor editor, who needs a boat more than an office cubicle.

Why would you leave that job?

Nonetheless, despite Sam’s love for the outdoors, he became the News Sentinel’s general columnist in 1985. He quickly realized his prose would be perused more carefully.

Two or three weeks before the editor retired, TVA came out with a slick promotion, raising the question: “Where has all the bottomland gone?”

Sam knew. TVA has just finished damming up 650 miles of the Tennessee River. That pretty much took care of the fertile farmland.

Sam aimed and fired at a target that was easier to hit than one of those deer he lines up in his crosshairs. But the column was too strong for the squeamish editor, who pulled it after the first edition.

Harry was already on the payroll as an editor-in-waiting. When Sam told him what had happened to the column, Harry said, “That’s the kind of column I want you to write.”

Sam already had a following, but having a big fan as an editor was a bonus. Maybe he did make the right move in going from outdoor editor to general columnist.

His success as an author provided further confirmation. Fans who think Sam is funny probably will want to read what jokes he thinks are funny.

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