Laughing Gas, by P.G. Wodehouse


P.G. Wodehouse was referred to by an English journalist as “the most influential novelist of our age” and a master of “the Great English Joke”. This meant the teasing of all people who take themselves too seriously.

Wodehouse said, “I had just begun to write this story, when a literary pal of mine who had had a sticky night out with the P.E.N Club blew in to borrow bicarbonate of soda, and I thought it would be as well to have him vet what I’d done, in case I might have foozled my tee-shot.” He tells him he can read some of the story and is told, “If you must” and he replies: “Right ho”. 

The story starts with Reggie and Joey sitting I the dentist office. Reggie is the Third Earl of Havershot, he started at the bottom and worked his way up to Third Earl, also an accomplished boxer. He has been asked by his family to go to Hollywood and save his cousin Eggy, the family black sheep, who is planning to marry a Hollywood bimbo. On the way he meets a famous movie star and his long-lost love, April June, but he is surprised to learn that she is the one his cousin Eggy plans to marry. 

Reggie, in the dentist office, finds himself sitting next to Joey Cooley, a 10-year-old child film star and they are both under laughing gas anesthetic and somehow, they find that their identities are swapped, and each is in the others body. 

Trouble follows. Young Joey has lots of resentment for his manages and even for his co-star, April June. Joey with his new 6-foot body plans to give his past tormentors a punch in the snout. Reggie now in the body of a child wants to warn those that may be punched. 

Eventually Wodehouse finds a way out for Reggie and Joey. Reggie as his mature self gets an opportunity to approach Ann Bannister. He is at first hesitant because he knows his true face looks like a gorilla. 

This is a small comic novel, 286 pages, first published in the United Kingdom in 1936 and then in the United States. The story is set in Hollywood in the early 1930s. This story is a satire on Hollywood full of facades, and the story is a farce. 


‘Haven’t you ever heard of Sister Lora Luella Stott?’ ‘No. Who is she?’ ‘She is the woman who is leading California out of the swamp of alcohol.’.............................‘Good God!’ I could tell by Eggy’s voice that he was interested. ‘Is there a swamp of alcohol in these parts? What an amazing country America is. Talk about every modern convenience. Do you mean you can simply go there and lap?’ Laughing Gas (1936) 

“And she's got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need.”

“It has been well said that an author who expects results from a first novel is in a position similar to that of a man who drops a rose petal down the Grand Canyon of Arizona and listens for the echo.”