Education | Humor a Communication and Social Action
F401 | 5510 | Steve Olbrys
HUMOR is one of the most important forms of creative human
communication and expressive culture, yet the formal study of humor
and its social consequences has not enjoyed widespread popularity.
This course takes as its starting point the idea that humor is a
fundamental aspect of human social life; put simply, humor helps get
much social business done, and as such it deserves scholarly
attention. This course seeks to provide that attention through a
close look at the various roles humor plays in communication and
A fruitful study of humor and its consequences in social life is an
interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary endeavor. This is a reading
list that draws on many fields, including communication, performance
and folklore studies, education, psychology, anthropology, sociology,
and American studies. This course considers how humor, as a way of
communicating, effects people's perspectives on such social issues as
race, ethnicity, gender, class, group identity, disasters, and popular
culture. This course looks at a variety of forms of humor, ranging
from joking behavior to contemporary sitcoms. We also consider
practical and therapeutic uses of humor in the face of illness or
death, as a way to bring people together, and as a rhetorical strategy
to criticize or applaud certain behaviors.
Unlike many studies of a particular form of humor (such as comedic
literature), this course takes an ethnographic approach to the study
of humor. Humor is, after all, something that people do, and so to
understand how humor effects people's lives and what it means to them,
you have to speak with them, and ask them about it, and share a part
in their events and performances. Students are introduced to the
ethnography of humor and assigned projects to practice this approach
to human social life.
This course has two primary objectives: First, to introduce the
student to the scholarly study of humor and to provide the analytical
skills necessary to be critical of contemporary forms of humor. We
shall do this by examining important sites of social action where
humor plays an important role in the outcome. Second, to introduce
students to the ethnography of humor communication and the benefits of
an ethnographic perspective towards contemporary culture and
expressive forms. We want to accomplish all of this without losing
our own sense of humor; that is, although this course requires a
serious look at humor, we intend the result to be a greater
appreciation of humor's importance in modern society. It is our aim,
therefore, to balance a scholarly and critical look at humor with a
good dose of comic relief.
This course requires a student who is willing both to analyze
expressive forms of humor in a critical and responsible way and, more
importantly, to laugh at himself or herself. Since we will deal
weekly with contentious issues regarding all forms of social
institutions, from the sanctity of religious tradition to the thrills
of an obscene joke, we ask that students who take this course be
prepared for a mature examination of difficult and adult issues.
TEXTBOOKS AND ARTICLES
This course averages about 50 pages of reading each week, including
two book-length studies of humor, and several dozen articles. The
required texts are:
Basso, Keith. Portraits of the "Whiteman:" Linguistic Play and
Cultural Symbols among the Western Apache. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1979.
Boskin, Joseph. Rebellious Laughter: People's Humor in American
Culture. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1997.
Additional articles are assigned, but in most cases different groups
of students will be responsible for different articles (of course, you
are welcome to read all the material). I ask different students to
read different articles in order to foster a wider range of sources
for discussion. The entire Reader of Articles (on reserve at the Main
Library and at the School of Education library) includes the
Required Readings for All Students
Apte, Mahadev. 1992. "Humor."
Bakhtin, Mikhail. 1984. Rabelais and His World (selections).
Berger, Arthur Asa. 1995. "The Messages of Mirth: Humor and
Burke, Kenneth. 1984. "Comic Correctives."
Christiansen, Adrienne and Jeremy Hanson. 1996. "Comedy as Cure for
Tragedy: Act Up and the Rhetoric of AIDS."
Cohen, David. 1977. "Humor, Irony, and Self-Detachment."
Crawford, Mary. 1992. "Just Kidding: Gender and Conversational
Douglas, Mary. 1991. "Jokes."
Freud, Sigmund. 1963. Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious
Goodwin, Joseph. 1986. "Humour and Conflict in the Gay World."
Goodwin, Joseph. 1995. "If Ignorance is Bliss, Tis Folly to Be Wise:
What We Don't Know Can Hurt Us."
Hynes, William. 1993. "Mapping the Characteristics of Mythical
Leon, Harmon. 2000. "Comedy Crash Course."
Lyman, Peter. 1987. "The Fraternal Bond as Joking Relationship: A
Case Study of the Role of Sexist Jokes in Male Group Bonding."
Meyer, John. 2000. "Humor as a Double-Edged Sword: Four Functions of
Humor in Communication"
Mintz, Lawrence. 1994. "American Humor Looks at Family Values."
Morreall, John. 1983. "The Social Value of Humor."
Nilsen, Alleen Pace. 1994. "In Defense of Humor."
Oring, Elliot. 1992. "Appropriate Incongruities."
Pershing, Linda. 1991. "There's a Joker in the Menstrual Hut."
Proschan, Frank. 1987. "The Cocreation of the Comic in Puppetry."
Provine, Robert. 2000. "The Science of Laughter."
Rutter, John. 1998. "Stepping Into Wayne's World: Explaining
Sella, Marshall. 2000. "The Stiff Guy vs. The Dumb Guy."*Sherzer,
Joel. 1990. "On Play, Joking, Humor, and Tricking in Kuna: The
Smith, Moira. 1986. "Walls Have Ears: A Contextual Approach to
Smith, Moira. 1995. "Whipping Up A Storm: The Ethics and
Consequences of Joking Around."
Toelken, Barre. 1996. "The Educative Matrix."
Vale, V. and Andrea Juno. 1987. "Barry Alfonso."
Assigned Readings to Various Groups of Students
Bauman, Richard. 1986. "We Was Always Pullin' Jokes: The Management
of Point of View in
Personal Experience Narratives."
Berger, Arthur Asa. 1996. "The Politics of Laughter."
Berger, Arthur Asa. 1993. "The Telephone Pole with Braided Armpits."
Bier, Jesse. 1988. "The Problem of the Polish Joke in Derogatory
Boskin, Joseph. 1997. "American Political Humor: Touchables and
Boskin, Joseph and Joseph Dorinson. 1987. "Ethnic Humor: Subversion
Cixous, Hélène. 1976. "The Laugh of the Medusa."
Dundes, Alan. 1987. "97 Reasons Why Cucumbers Are Better Than Men."
Dundes, Alan. 1987. "Slurs International: Folk Comparisons of
Ethnicity and National
Elias, Maurice and Lyn Erickson. 2000. "The Therapeutic Power of
Fine, Gary Alan. 1976. "Obscene Joking Across Cultures."
Greenbaum, Andrea. 1999. "Stand-up Comedy as Rhetorical Argument: An
Investigation of Comic Culture."
Jenkins, Ron. 1994. "Ridiculing Racism in South Africa."
Jenkins, Ron. 1994. "Clowns and Popes in Italy."
Kightlinger, Laura. 1992. "Return the Favor."
Koziski, Stephanie. 1997. "The Stand-Up Comedian as Anthropologist."
Mintz, Lawrence. 1987. "Standup Comedy as Social and Cultural
Mitchell, Carol. 1978. "Hostility and Aggression Towards Males in
Female Joke Telling."
Oldani, John. 1988. "Is the Pope Catholic?: A Content Analysis of
American Jokelore about the
Olliff, Virginia. 1999. "Lighten Up!"
Poulsen, Richard C. 1989. "Violence and the Sacred: Mormon Jokes
Pramaggiore, Maria. 1992. "Belly Laughs and Naked Rage: Resisting
Humor in Karen Finley's
Ryan, Cynthia. 1997. "Reclaiming the Body: The Subversive
Possibilities of Breast Cancer
Saporta, Sol. 1994. "The Politics of Dirty Jokes: Woody Allen, Lenny
Bruce, Andrew Dice Clay, Groucho Marx, and Clarence Thomas."
Thorson, James. 1993. "Did You Ever See A Hearse Go By? Some
Thoughts on Gallows Humor."
Toelken, Barre. 1985. "‘Türkenrein' and ‘Türken, ‘Raus!'––Images of
Fear and Aggression in German Gastarbeiterwitze."
Vale, V. and Andrea Juno. 1987. RE/Search Pranks! Packet One:
"Henry Rollins," "Joey Skaggs," Abbie Hoffmann," "Mal Sharpe," "Jerry
Casale," "David Strauss."
Wilson, William. 1985. "The Seriousness of Mormon Humor."
Recommended Reading (not required)
Apte, Mahadev. 1985. "Sociolinguistic Aspects"
Limón, José E. 1982. "History, Chicano Joking, and the Varieties of
Tradition and Performance as Critical Symbolic Action."
Sheppard, Alice. 1991. "Social Cognition, Gender Roles, and Women's
The study of humor may involve a close inspection of (seemingly)
trivial details of human communication and creativity, but this does
not warrant trivial work. I place high demands on you in order to
help you develop the critical skills needed to understand the
subtleties of humor as important social business; these skills will be
helpful in any career. To focus your energies productively, I have
designed the following assignments:
Fieldwork Projects: Ethnographic Observation of Humor Events (20%
total, 10% each) (3-5 pages each)
On two occasions students are asked to attend a humor event and
describe it from an ethnographic perspective, which I will detail and
provide ample information on in class. An ethnographic perspective
entails participating in the event, discussing it and interviewing
other participants about their reactions and impressions. Students
are asked to look at two types of events: (1) a highly structured
performance involving humor (e.g., a stand-up comic, a sermon, a
play), and (2) a more informal event (e.g., people "hanging out" at
home, an evening at a local club, walking to and from classes,
discussions over the internet, etc.). Each type of event presents a
different challenge to the student, and provides a new opportunity to
see in close detail how humor functions as a kind of communication.
These assignments also demonstrate the sheer magnitude of humor's
presence and use in human culture. Students are strongly encouraged
to participate as much as possible in any of the performances they
attend. These projects are graded based on criteria satisfied, and
not on a strict norm-based system; hence students are allowed to
rewrite these projects after the instructor has read through them and
commented on them, and will be able to earn a higher grade after
Journal Entries (30% total, 10% each) (@ 1-2 pages per week)
Throughout the semester, students are asked to keep a "humor journal"
as a means to record and ponder the role of humor in everyday life and
in special events. The journal entries should be focused
writing––that is, clear, organized and succinct. Students should make
entries to the journal at least once a week, averaging a page or two
per entry (250-500 words); of course, I welcome as many pages as you
write. There will be two types of entries: free writing and assigned.
Free writing entries are places for observations and ruminations about
expressions of humor as the student encounters them. Assigned entries
are responses to topics given by the instructor; here, students are
asked to reflect upon the issues raised in discussion and to provide
both (1) a specific case study of humor which interests them, and (2)
support for the reflection drawn from the readings. The journals
provide the opportunity for students to consider their own interests
in the study of humor and its ramifications, and to ponder possible
topics for the final project. The instructor will provide sample
questions for reflection, which students may answer or simply use as a
model. Journals will be collected on three occasions.
Oral Report (10%)
On a scheduled day during weeks 4 to 15, students are asked to bring
in a brief humor text (such as a clip from a movie or television show,
a comic strip, an internet joke, etc.) and discuss what they find
humorous about it with the class, drawing upon the readings and ideas
discussed in class. The oral reports need only be 5-10 minutes in
Final Project (40%): Performance Analysis (8-12 pages)
For a final project, students are asked to critically analyze at least
one performance of humor (whether highly formal or informal, an
application of humor or a major event centering on humorous action)
and discuss its ramifications and impact upon the social and cultural
situation. Students should explore their own interests through this
analysis; for example, students may consider in detail the therapeutic
use of humor, humor in the classroom, children's use of humor, the
role of the audience in establishing humor, how race or gender is
constructed and maintained through humor, the changing contemporary
forms of humor, etc. Students must obtain prior permission of this
topic from the instructor no later than Week 11, in order that I may
offer as many suggestions as possible. I applaud innovative and
daring explorations of the social consequences of humor, and am happy
to help you design this project at any point during the semester.
Additional instructions will be handed out in class.
The instructor will provide considerable feedback on all projects and
papers, and strongly encourages students to consult with him regarding
individual interests in the study of humor.
All work must be typed, and double-spaced. Assignments must be handed
in or emailed to the instructor no later than midnight on the day they
are due. Please consult the Schedule of Classes and Readings for due
Assignments are graded according to the standard A+ to F scale.
Grades will be assessed on the quality of the content and analysis,
the choice of topics (the performance or reflection), the
thoughtfulness or degree of participation involved in response, the
quality of the writing, and overall innovativeness. I welcome
students to consult with me on any step of the writing process.
Appropriate alternatives to writing are welcome. For example,
students may choose to tape record a conversation or debate with a
fellow student instead of writing a journal entry. A student may make
a public performance in lieu of writing one of the fieldwork projects.
Students must obtain prior permission for any alternative to writing,
and a contract for grading will be drawn up between the student and
Unexplained late papers and projects will entail the loss of a letter
grade; their authors will be subject to ridicule and public
UNEXCUSED ATTENDANCE POLICY
Students who miss more than three classes without an acceptable excuse
will be docked one third a letter grade from their final grade.
DISCUSSIONS AND GUEST SPEAKERS
I believe that any serious study of humor involves both wide exposure
to several popular forms and the establishment of a close-knit group
of colleagues with whom to share ideas and humor itself. Therefore,
we will emphasize the following activities:
Discussion. Each class will center on discussion raised by the
readings and reflections of the students. On occasion, the instructor
may introduce key concepts through brief lecturing, but the topic of
humor resists lengthy lectures. Hence I will spend the first few
minutes of class clarifying issues from the readings or introducing
key topics, and will provide questions to initiate discussions, but I
will aim for students to identify key issues of interest to talk about
as a group. In order to facilitate a fruitful and enjoyable
conversation, students may be asked to lead the discussion by
selecting forms and situations of humor for consideration and
analysis. I will provide texts and other resources and encourage
students to keep a record of humorous situations which they observe
each week and a running list of topics that they would like to
discuss. For example, if a student is interested in stand-up comedy
as a form of art, she or he should feel welcome to bring up this topic
as often as appropriate throughout the semester. I may also ask
students to discuss issues in smaller groups.
Guest Speakers. I plan to have guests visit the class whenever
possible. There will be a visit by at least one professional comic
performer, and one humor scholar. These visits will provide
opportunities for students to work first-hand with individuals who are
involved with the performance of humor and its social consequences.
Please consult the Schedule of Classes and Readings to see the dates
of the visits.
SCHEDULE OF CLASSES AND READINGS
(Abbreviations: RL = Rebellious Laughter; POWM = Portraits of the
Part One: Foundations––Humor as a Way of Communicating
Week 1 Laughing Matters: Foundations in the Study of Humor I
T 1/9 Introduction
R 1/11 Readings (all required):
Apte 1992, "Humor" (8 pages); Nilsen 1994, "In Defense of Humor" (6);
Goodwin 1995, "If Ignorance is Bliss, Tis Folly to Be Wise: What We
Don't Know Can Hurt Us" (8)
This week is an introduction to the study of humor, and to the
students and instructor. On the first day we will review the syllabus
and answer any practical or logistical questions regarding the class.
On the second meeting the instructor will briefly lecture in order to
introduce some key terms and ideas involved in the study of humor as
communication and social action: event, enactment, expressive culture,
performance, verbal art, speech play, creativity, tradition, laughter,
a sense of humor, etc. We will also discuss some the reasons for
studying humor and the possible areas that students can explore. We
try to tackle the first question: Why do we humans like to laugh?
Week 2 Laughing Matters: Foundations in the Study of Humor II
T 1/16 Readings (required):
Berger 1995, "The Messages of Mirth: Humor and Communication Theory"
Recommended: Apte 1985, "Sociolinguistic Aspects" (19)
R 1/18 Readings (all required):
Morreall 1983, "The Social Value of Humor" (6); Meyer 2000, "Humor as
a Double-Edged Sword" (20); Provine 2000, "The Science of Laughter"
This week we continue our look into the foundations of "humorology"
and begin to foster our first discussions based on student interests.
We will introduce several key concepts: incongruity, ambiguity, genre,
form, function, meaning, etc. We also consider humor as a
communicative process. Contemporary American forms of humor, ranging
from oral jokes to TV sitcoms to weblists, are identified. In the
second meeting we will discuss the fieldwork projects and the
importance of an ethnographic perspective at length. A key issue for
discussion: Why are some things humorous and others not? What
determines the humor of any event?
Week 3 "Heard the One About?" . . . Jokes, Jocular Behavior, and
T 1/23 Readings (all required):
Douglas 1991, "Jokes" (19); Oring 1992, "Appropriate Incongruity" (15)
R 1/25 Readings (all required):
Smith 1995, "Whipping Up A Storm" (13); Leon 2000, "Comedy Crash
Journals due on Thursday
This week we consider one of the more important and widespread forms
of institutionalized humor, joking. Joking relationships entail power
relationships, so we will begin to consider situations in which humor
is used as a competition between participants in its performance, and
will look at related forms such as insults and taunts. Consequently,
we must debate whether joking is always an expression of aggression.
We ask a loaded but important question for debate: Why do we humans
need jokes to survive?
Week 4 "Is This Thing On?" . . . Humor as Performance
T 1/30 Readings (required):
Pershing 1991, "There's A Joker in the Menstrual Hut" (33)
R 2/1 Readings (all required):
Toelken 1996, "The Educative Matrix" (10); Smith 1986, "Walls Have
Ears: A Contextual Approach to Graffiti" (5); Proschan 1987, "The
Cocreation of the Comic in Puppetry" (11)
This is the final week of foundational material, and we will integrate
still more discussion. We will look closely at the key concept of
humor as performance, and with it several interrelated ideas:
aesthetics, performer, audience, style, judgment, context, persuasion
and the rhetorical use of humor, style, frames, etc. What happens
when humor is successful (or not), and how does it change the way
people relate to each other?
Part Two: Serious Business––Humor as Mediation
Week 5 Humor and Social Critique I
T 2/6 Readings (assigned––three groups):
Berger 1996, "The Politics of Laughter" (13) and Wilson 1985, "The
Seriousness of Mormon Humor" (7); or Oldani 1988, "Is the Pope
Catholic?" (18); or Boskin 1997, "American Political Humor: Touchables
and Taboos" (14) and Saporta 1994, "The Politics of Dirty Jokes" (4)
R 2/8 Readings (required):
Sella 2000, "The Stiff Guy vs. The Dumb Guy" (8)
Readings (assigned—two groups):
Koziski 1984, "The Stand-Up Comedian as Anthropologist" (26); or
Greenbaum 1999, "Stand-up Comedy as Rhetorical Argument" (13) and
Mintz 1987, "Standup Comedy as Social and Cultural Mediation" (10)
Fieldwork Project I due on Thursday: Ethnographic Observation of a
Formal Humor Event
The fifth week introduces us to Part Two of the course, Humor as
Mediation––that is, the ways in which people use humorous
communication to engage important social issues. We begin this week
with a look at two timeless targets for humor: religion and politics.
Our aim is not simply to ridicule either, of course, but to unpack the
issues at stake and how humor becomes a socially appropriate response.
Student interests and projects will become key to the discussions. We
must ask: How does humor provide a social critique, and when and why
is it a more useful form than, for example, outright criticism? How
is humor a type of judgment? Are there certain subjects that are
simply too serious to joke about?
We will also spend time discussing the results of the first fieldwork
Week 6 Serious Play and Comic Relief: Humor as Desire, Dark
Pleasure, and Therapy
T 2/13 Readings (required):
Freud 1963, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (25)
R 2/15 Readings (all required):
Pramaggiore 1992, "Belly Laughs and Naked Rage" (10) and Fine 1976,
"Obscene Joking Across Cultures" (6); or Ryan 1997, "Reclaiming the
Body: The Subversive Possibilities of Breast Cancer Humor" (20); or
Olliff 1999, "Lighten Up!" (4) and Elias and Erickson 2000, "The
Therapeutic Power of Humor" (2) and Thorson 1993, "Did You Ever See A
Hearse Go By?" (7)
This week we consider the "darker side" of humor, and how humor can
bring to light and satire the worst aspects of human behavior. Forms
of obscene, dark, and scatological humor are analyzed, as are certain
types of satire and irony. We ask the question: Are these forms of
humor so insensitive that they should be avoided, or is there some
importance in their performance? We will look closely and debate how
humor and pleasure are interrelated, and examine several case studies.
We also consider humor as relief from anxiety, especially in the face
of disasters both public and private. Finally, we look at humor as
therapy, and consider other applications of humor as a
coping-mechanism for illness or stress.
Week 7 "Terror is Conquered by Laughter:" Humor as Violation of the
T 2/20 Readings (required):
Bakhtin 1984, selections from Rabelais and His World (15); Vale and
Juno 1987, "Barry Alfonso" (11)
R 2/22 Readings (assigned—two groups):
Bauman 1986, "We Was Always Pullin' Jokes" (20); or Vale and Juno
1987, RE/Search Pranks! (33 pages: Casale, Hoffman, Rollins, Sharpe,
Skaggs, and Strauss)
This week focuses on the notion of the carnivalesque, and on the
social body as a site for humor. We reopen questions about the power
of laughter, resistance, language, and transgression. Other topics
this week include practical jokes and forms of physical or nonverbal
humor, and the ways that an outbreak of humor can both reverse and
re-establish social order. We will introduce the cultural figure of
the Trickster, who will appear again in our study of cross-cultural
Week 8 Humor, Sex, and Gender
T 2/27 Readings (all required):
Crawford 1992, "Just Kidding: Gender and Conversational Humor" (14);
Lyman 1987, "The Fraternal Bond as Joking Relationship" (15); Goodwin
1986, "Humour and Conflict in the Gay World" (3); Kightlinger 1992,
"Return the Favor" (4)
R 3/1 Readings (assigned––two groups):
Dundes 1987, "97 Reasons Why Cucumbers Are Better Than Men" (14) and
Mitchell 1978, "Hostility and Aggression Towards Males in Female Joke
Telling" (4); or Cixous 1976, "The Laugh of the Medusa" (18)
Recommended: Sheppard 1991, "Social Cognition, Gender Roles, and
Women's Humor" (18)
Journals due on Thursday
We continue our look at the consequences of humor by examining and
debating the relationship of humor to gender and sexuality. We
consider several studies of the different styles, expectations, and
uses of humor by and between both genders, and consider the problem of
sexism as it relates to humorous communication. We will draw from a
variety of sources––internet joke lists, sitcoms and movies, and
student reflections especially––to examine what's really at stake in
male and female humor.
Week 9 Humor, Race, and Ethnicity
T 3/6 Readings (assigned—two groups):
Boskin and Dorinson 1987, "Ethnic Humor: Subversion and Survival"
(21); or Dundes 1987, "Slurs International" (19)
R 3/8 Readings (assigned––three groups):
Berger 1993, "The Telephone Pole with Braided Armpits" (9) and Bier
1988, "The Problem of the Polish Jokes in Derogatory American Humor"
(7); or Poulsen 1989, "Violence and the Sacred: Mormon Jokes about
Blacks" (12); or Toelken 1985, "‘Türkenrein' and ‘Türken,
‘Raus!'––Images of Fear and Aggression in German Gastarbeiterwitze"
This week we look closely at the consequences of humor with respect to
race and ethnicity. This will involve a discussion of several key
concepts: esoteric and exoteric knowledge, stereotyping, local
communities and cultural knowledge, and scapegoating. Why do groups
of people target other groups as the butt of joking behavior? Does
this action always contribute to racism, or are there conditions under
which groups are best served by separation through humor? We will
explore and debate these issues by looking very closely at some key
articles and by drawing off student's own reflections and
3/10-3/18 Spring Break
Part Three: Humor Across Cultures
Week 10 Humor and Social Critique II
T 3/20 Readings (all required):
Rutter 1998, "Stepping Into Wayne's World: Explaining Postmodern
Comedy" (12); Cohen 1977, "Humor, Irony, and Self-Detachment" (1)
R 3/22 Readings (all required):
Mintz 1994, "American Humor Looks at Family Values" (13)
Fieldwork Project II due on Thursday: Ethnographic Observation of an
Informal Humor Event
We return to contemporary comedy as a topic. If students are
interested we will briefly discuss the development of comedy in the
Western world, and examine some key moments along the way. We will
spend considerable attention to (post)modern forms of humor,
especially as they function subversively against a dominant system.
Other topics include intertexuality in contemporary humor, irony,
nonsense, and absurdity.
We will also spend time discussing the results of the second fieldwork
Week 11 The "American" Sense of Humor I
T 3/27 Readings (all required):
Boskin, RL, "Introduction" (11), "American Dream/American Laugh"
(10), "The Urban Fulcrum" (13), and "Outsiders/Insiders" (11)
R 3/29 Readings (all required):
Boskin, RL, "The Child and the Giant," (20), "Repression and Riposte"
(13), and "Guerrilla Satirists" (17)
Topic for Final Paper due on Thursday
The tenth week introduces us to Part Three of the course, Humor Across
Cultures. We start by looking at and critiquing the history and
consequences of humor in America. We ask: Does the concept of
"American humor" make sense, or is American culture dispersed between
so many groups that there can be no real notion of a single American
sense of humor? Is it better to consider American senses of humor?
We will look closely at different standards of humor between American
subcultures (e.g., African-American, white, working class, teenagers,
children, educators, etc.)
Week 12 The "American" Sense of Humor II
T 4/3 Readings (all required):
Boskin, RL, "Is There Life Before Death?" (15), "The Undeclared Joke
Wars" (27), and "Comedic Correctness" (13)
R 4/5 Readings (all required):
Boskin, RL, "Tribal Reprisals" (19), "The Tattered Dream" (23), and
"Postlude: How Many Jokes Does It Take to Change a Zeitgeist?" (6)
We continue our study of the history and consequences of American
styles of humor, with an eye to looking at humor in other countries
and societies in the coming weeks.
Week 13 Humor in Cross-Cultural Settings I
T 4/10 Readings (all required):
Sherzer 1990, "On Play, Joking, Humor, and Tricking in Kuna: The
Agouti Story" (12); Hynes 1993, "Mapping the Characteristics of Mythic
R 4/12 Readings (assigned—two groups):
Jenkins 1994, "Ridiculing Racism in South Africa" (26); or Jenkins
1994, "Clowns and Popes in Italy" (26)
Recommended: Limón 1982, "History, Chicano Joking, and the Varieties
of Higher Education: Tradition and Performance as Critical Symbolic
Journals due on Thursday
Having considered a dominant "American" sense of humor, we now look
closely at the standar