Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Anatomy of the Dirty Joke

I've posted about the power relationships expressed by sexist jokes before. Now Jim Holt helps to understand what makes a dirty joke funny.

Holt offer three models for analysis:

1) Freudian theory--this holds that a dirty joke is funny because it allows us to release, through our laughter, a little bit of the repressed libidinal energy we have caged up. A dirty joke is like a safety valve. (However, Holt seems to think this theory is not very sound. If it were true, then the most sexually repressed people would be the ones who "got" and loved dirty jokes the most. This is not often the case in his experience)

2) "superiority theory"--offered up by Plato, Hobbes, and Henri Bergson, this holds that laughter is a way at expressing superiority over others, or derision toward them. It explans why some people find sexist or racist jokes funny.

3) "incongruity theory"--offered up by Pascal, Kant, and Schopenhauer, this holds that laughter registers when the normal and ordinary gives way to something absurd. ("Do you believe in clubs for children?" W.C. Fields replied: "Only when kindness fails.") This one, for me, explains the humor of Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert; they show us how absurd poltics really is today.

Dirty jokes have been with us forever it seems, but Holt does see hopes of something like progress in dirty joke telling, moving us from filthiness to an appreciation of the absurd.

Is there a place for dirty jokes or is such humor simply low brow and demeaning (of both the joker and the audience)?



At 12:09 AM , Blogger Dennis said...

"laughter registers when the normal and ordinary gives way to something absurd."

Like social norm-normal, or some other kind of normal?

At 6:52 AM , Blogger Joseph Orosco said...

Social norm normal. Look at W.C. Fields's joke: one normally would not beat a kid with a club so the thought of doing so is absurd, and hence, funny, according to 3). Is there a different sense of normal?

At 5:12 PM , Blogger Ron C. de Weijze said...

Bergson did not suggest that laughter expressed superiority. It either reduced content to mechanism and instinct or elevated it to humanism/moralism and intellect (of the proper kind), that is in the course of creative evolution, with or against the flow.

At 7:57 PM , Blogger Joseph Orosco said...

Ron: thanks for the clarification. this was holt's classification.


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