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The Consolations of Humor and Other Folklore Essays
Elliott Oring
Utah State University Press, 2023
The Consolations of Humor and Other Folklore Essays unfolds as a series of questions, commentaries, and criticisms of the analysis, interpretation, and explanation of folklore. Can we confidently regard jokes as the catharsis of sexual and aggressive impulses? What is the basis for characterizing a joke as Jewish or Scottish or Japanese? What do we really know about “dirty jokes”? How is a text or behavior constructed so that it is perceived as humorous? Can we get a computer to reliably recognize jokes? What is the relevance of memetics and a Darwinian paradigm to understanding folklore change over time? Can we identify laws operating in the realm of folklore? How can the marginalization, extinction, or continuity of traditions be explained? In the course of addressing these questions, Elliott Oring identifies some fundamental problems, brings new evidence and observations to the discussion, and proffers some original and startling insights.

While recognizing the study of jokes and other forms of folklore as a humanistic endeavor, Oring believes in the relevance of a scientific perspective to the enterprise. He values clear definitions, tests of hypotheses and theories, empirical evidence, experiment, and the search for laws. Written in a sophisticated yet accessible style, The Consolations of Humor and Other Folklore Essays stimulates both scholars and students alike and contributes to the creation of a more robust folkloristics in the twenty-first century.

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Engaging Humor
Elliott Oring
University of Illinois Press, 2002

Exploring the structure, motives, and meanings of humor in everyday life

In Engaging Humor, Elliott Oring asks essential questions concerning humorous expression in contemporary society, examining how humor works, why it is employed, and what its messages might be. This provocative book is filled with examples of jokes and riddles that reveal humor to be a meaningful--even significant--form of expression.

Oring scrutinizes classic Jewish jokes, frontier humor, racist cartoons, blonde jokes, and Internet humor. He provides alternate ways of thinking about humorous expressions by examining their contexts--not just their contents. He also shows how the incongruity and absurdity essential to the production of laughter can serve serious communicative ends.

Engaging Humor examines the thoughts that underlie jokes, the question of racist motivation in ethnic humor, and the use of humor as a commentary on social interaction. The book also explores the relationship between humor and sentimentality and the role of humor in forging national identity. Engaging Humor demonstrates that when analyzed contextually and comparatively, humorous expressions emerge as communications that are startling, intriguing, and profound.


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Ethnic Humor in Multiethnic America
Gillota, David
Rutgers University Press, 2013
When wielded by the white majority, ethnic humor can be used to ridicule and demean marginalized groups. In the hands of ethnic minorities themselves, ethnic humor can work as a site of community building and resistance. In nearly all cases, however, ethnic humor can serve as a window through which to examine the complexities of American race relations. In Ethnic Humor in Multiethnic America, David Gillota explores the ways in which contemporary comic works both reflect and participate in national conversations about race and ethnicity.

Gillota investigates the manner in which various humorists respond to multiculturalism and the increasing diversity of the American population. Rather than looking at one or two ethnic groups at a time—as is common scholarly practice—the book focuses on the interplay between humorists from different ethnic communities. While some comic texts project a fantasy world in which diverse ethnic characters coexist in a rarely disputed harmony, others genuinely engage with the complexities and contradictions of multiethnic America.

The first chapter focuses on African American comedy with a discussion of such humorists as Paul Mooney and Chris Rock, who tend to reinforce a black/white vision of American race relations. This approach is contrasted to the comedy of Dave Chappelle, who looks beyond black and white and uses his humor to place blackness within a much wider multiethnic context.

Chapter 2 concentrates primarily on the Jewish humorists Sarah Silverman, Larry David, and Sacha Baron Cohen—three artists who use their personas to explore the peculiar position of contemporary Jews who exist in a middle space between white and other.

In chapter 3, Gillota discusses different humorous constructions of whiteness, from a detailed analysis of South Park to “Blue Collar Comedy” and the blog Stuff White People Like.

Chapter 4 is focused on the manner in which animated children’s film and the network situation comedy often project simplified and harmonious visions of diversity. In contrast, chapter 5 considers how many recent works, such as Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and the Showtime series Weeds, engage with diversity in more complex and productive ways.

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A Christian Philosophy of Humor
Peter Kreeft
St. Augustine's Press, 2022
"This book almost didn't exist. I was about to write a serious, heavy book entitled How To Save Western Civilization, as a sequel to my book How To Destroy Western Civilization and Other Ideas from the Cultural Abyss. But writing it was not making me happy, and reading it was not going to make anybody else happy either. And then I stopped just long enough for my guardian angel to squeeze through that tiny window of opportunity that I had opened up by my silence and to whisper this commonsense question into my subconscious: "Why not make them happy instead?" (Angels specialize in common sense.) 

I started thinking: Western civilization is neither healthy, happy, nor holy. Humor is all three. Humor is not only holy, it's Heavenly. And if you are surprised to be told that humor is Heavenly, you need to read this book because you reveal your misunderstanding of both humor and Heaven. If you ask, 'Is there laughter in Heaven?' my answer is: 'You can't be serious!'" 

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Hostile Humor in Renaissance France
Bruce Hayes
University of Delaware Press, 2011

In sixteenth-century France, the level of jokes, irony, and ridicule found in pamphlets and plays became aggressively hostile. In Hostile Humor in Renaissance France, Bruce Hayes investigates this period leading up to the French Wars of Religion, when a deliberately harmful and destructive form of satire appeared.

This study examines both pamphlets and plays to show how this new form of humor emerged that attacked religious practices and people in ways that forever changed the nature of satire and religious debate in France. Hayes explores this phenomenon in the context of the Catholic and Protestant conflict to reveal new insights about the society that both exploited and vilified this kind of satire.


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Humor and Comedy in Puppetry
Celebration in Popular Culture
University of Wisconsin Press, 1987
This volume is about puppetry, an expression of popular and folk culture which is extremely widespread around the world and yet has attracted relatively little scholarly attention. Puppetry, which is intended for audiences of adults as well as children, is a form of communication and entertainment and an esthetic and artistic creation. Of the many aspects of puppetry worthy of scholarly study, this book's focus is on a central and dominant feature--humor and comedy.

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Jokes, Life after Death, and God
Joseph Bobik
St. Augustine's Press, 2020
Jokes, Life after Death, and God has two main tasks: to try to understand exactly what a joke is, and to see whether there are any connections between jokes, on the one hand, and life after death and God, on the other hand. But it pursues other tasks as well, tasks of an ancillary sort.
    This book devises a general and comprehensive, but brief, theory of jokes. The author begins with critiques of other writers’ views on the subject. 1) Ted Cohen thinks that such a theory is impossible. 2) Ronald Berk, on the other hand, provides just such a theory. And 3) John Morreall provides a general theory of laughter, which may include some things which can be used in a general theory of jokes. 4) Neil Schaeffer, too, provides a general theory of laughter, which makes a big point out of what he calls the “ludicrous context”; but he does include a chapter on jokes. 5) Christopher Wilson offers a general theory of jokes in which he focuses on form and content. And 6) Thomas Werge, in reflecting on the comic, suggests a general theory of jokes which identifies their matter, form, agents, purposes, and beyond these, the underlying shared relational context, which makes it possible for jokes to arise. 7) Bill Fuller’s message is that there is more funniness coming out of two or more heads than out of one, just as Socrates’ message was that there is more clarity coming out of two or more heads than out of one. 8) Umberto Eco feels that monks should laugh, just as ordinary people do; for laughter not only refreshes our seeking spirits, it also illuminates the truth we seek. 9) Simon Critchley, in his reflections on humor, notes that jokes bring on a kind of everyday anamnesis, that they are anti-story stories, that they are like prayers, that they are like philosophy; and that they require a certain underlying context, which is implicitly recognized by both teller and listener, and which renders possible the tension needed to make the punch line work. 10) Martha Wolfenstein, pursuing a psychological analysis of children’s humor, proposes that the underlying motive for telling jokes remains the same from childhood to adulthood, i.e., to transform painful and frustrating experiences so as to extract pleasure from them; and that the agent or productive cause of jokes is the repressing unconscious, as suggested by Freud.
    As John Morreall has argued, neither the Superiority Theory (as in Plato, Aristotle and Hobbes), nor the Relief Theory (as in Spencer and Freud), nor the Incongruity Theory (as in Kant, Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard) appears to work as a general and comprehensive theory. Moreover, these writers talk more about humor and laughter than about jokes. To be sure, a joke is a type of humor. Thus, to say something about humor is to say something, though of a generic sort, about jokes. Similarly, to say something about the laughter caused by humor is to say something, though generic, about the laughter caused by jokes. Most of the authors considered in chapter one are concerned with jokes, and not only with humor as such. Section 11 of chapter one puts together, out of the combined contributions of these authors, what can be considered the beginnings of, some thoughts toward, a general and comprehensive theory of jokes. This task the author illustrates in a concrete way, by looking at individual jokes of different sorts; not, however, without inviting the reader to enjoy these jokes. The author looks particularly at Jewish jokes, Christian jokes, and Islamic jokes (jokes in three major religious traditions), jokes about philosophy and philosophers (philosophers ought to be able to laugh at themselves and at what they do), yo mama jokes (out of a healthy curiosity), Italian jokes and Slovak jokes, all of which makes for a clearer understanding of exactly what a joke is.
    The analysis of general theory is then followed by some views on the morality of jokes and joke-telling, and an analysis of the connection between jokes and life after death, on the one hand, and God, on the other. Throughout  the book Bobik offers innumerable examples to heighten our understanding and entertain us.

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Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters
Ted Cohen
University of Chicago Press, 1999
Abe and his friend Sol are out for a walk together in a part of town they haven't been in before. Passing a Christian church, they notice a curious sign in front that says "$1,000 to anyone who will convert." "I wonder what that's about," says Abe. "I think I'll go in and have a look. I'll be back in a minute; just wait for me."

Sol sits on the sidewalk bench and waits patiently for nearly half an hour. Finally, Abe reappears.

"Well," asks Sol, "what are they up to? Who are they trying to convert? Why do they care? Did you get the $1,000?"

Indignantly Abe replies, "Money. That's all you people care about."

Ted Cohen thinks that's not a bad joke. But he also doesn't think it's an easy joke. For a listener or reader to laugh at Abe's conversion, a complicated set of conditions must be met. First, a listener has to recognize that Abe and Sol are Jewish names. Second, that listener has to be familiar with the widespread idea that Jews are more interested in money than anything else. And finally, the listener needs to know this information in advance of the joke, and without anyone telling him or her. Jokes, in short, are complicated transactions in which communities are forged, intimacy is offered, and otherwise offensive stereotypes and cliches lose their sting—at least sometimes.

Jokes is a book of jokes and a book about them. Cohen loves a good laugh, but as a philosopher, he is also interested in how jokes work, why they work, and when they don't. The delight at the end of a joke is the result of a complex set of conditions and processes, and Cohen takes us through these conditions in a philosophical exploration of humor. He considers questions of audience, selection of joke topics, the ethnic character of jokes, and their morality, all with plenty of examples that will make you either chuckle or wince. Jokes: more humorous than other philosophy books, more philosophical than other humor books.

"Befitting its subject, this study of jokes is . . . light, funny, and thought-provoking. . . . [T]he method fits the material, allowing the author to pepper the book with a diversity of jokes without flattening their humor as a steamroller theory might. Such a book is only as good as its jokes, and most of his are good. . . . [E]ntertainment and ideas in one gossamer package."—Kirkus Reviews

"One of the many triumphs of Ted Cohen's Jokes-apart from the not incidental fact that the jokes are so good that he doesn't bother to compete with them-is that it never tries to sound more profound than the jokes it tells. . . . [H]e makes you feel he is doing an unusual kind of philosophy. As though he has managed to turn J. L. Austin into one of the Marx Brothers. . . . Reading Jokes makes you feel that being genial is the most profound thing we ever do-which is something jokes also make us feel-and that doing philosophy is as natural as being amused."—Adam Phillips, London Review of Books

"[A] lucid and jargon-free study of the remarkable fact that we divert each other with stories meant to make us laugh. . . . An illuminating study, replete with killer jokes."—Kevin McCardle, The Herald (Glasgow)

"Cohen is an ardent joke-maker, keen to offer us a glimpse of how jokes are crafted and to have us dwell rather longer on their effects."—Barry C. Smith, Times Literary Supplement

"Because Ted Cohen loves jokes, we come to appreciate them more, and perhaps think further about the quality of good humor and the appropriateness of laughter in our lives."—Steve Carlson, Christian Science Monitor

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Joking Asides
The Theory, Analysis, and Aesthetics of Humor
Elliott Oring
Utah State University Press, 2016
Nothing in the understanding of humor is as simple as it might seem. In Joking Asides, Elliott Oring confronts the problems of humor, analyzing the key contemporary approaches to its study and addressing controversial topics with new empirical data and insights.
A folklorist drawn to the study of humor, Oring developed his formulation of “appropriate incongruity” as a frame to understand what jokes must do to produce humor. He tests appropriate incongruity against other major positions in the field, including the general theory of verbal humor, conceptual integration theory, benign violation theory, and false-belief theory. Oring draws on the work of scholars from several disciplines—anthropology, folklore, philosophy, psychology, linguistics, and literature—to ask basic questions about the construction and evolution of jokes, untangle the matter of who the actual targets of a joke might be, and characterize the artistic qualities of jokes and joke performances.
Although Oring guides the reader through a forest of jokes and joke genres, this is not a joke book. A major work from a major scholar, Joking Asides is a rigorous exploration of theoretical approaches to jokes and their functions and is filled with disquieting questions, penetrating criticisms, and original observations. Written in a clear and accessible style, this book will prove valuable to any scholar or student who takes matters of jokes and joking seriously.

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Mathematics and Humor
John Allen Paulos
University of Chicago Press, 1982
John Allen Paulos cleverly scrutinizes the mathematical structures of jokes, puns, paradoxes, spoonerisms, riddles, and other forms of humor, drawing examples from such sources as Rabelais, Shakespeare, James Beattie, René Thom, Lewis Carroll, Arthur Koestler, W. C. Fields, and Woody Allen.

"Jokes, paradoxes, riddles, and the art of non-sequitur are revealed with great perception and insight in this illuminating account of the relationship between humor and mathematics."—Joseph Williams, New York Times

"'Leave your mind alone,' said a Thurber cartoon, and a really complete and convincing analysis of what humour is might spoil all jokes forever. This book avoids that danger. What it does. . .is describe broadly several kinds of mathematical theory and apply them to throw sidelights on how many kinds of jokes work."—New Scientist

"Many scholars nowadays write seriously about the ludicrous. Some merely manage to be dull. A few—like Paulos—are brilliant in an odd endeavor."—Los Angeles Times Book Review

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Practically Joking
Moira Marsh
Utah State University Press, 2015

In Practically Joking, the first full-length study of the practical joke, Moira Marsh examines the value, artistry, and social significance of this ancient and pervasive form of vernacular expression.

Though they are sometimes dismissed as the lowest form of humor, practical jokes come from a lively tradition of expressive play. They can reveal both sophistication and intellectual satisfaction, with the best demanding significant skill and talent not only to conceive but also to execute. Practically Joking establishes the practical joke as a folk art form subject to critical evaluation by both practitioners and audiences, operating under the guidance of local aesthetic and ethical canons.

Marsh studies the range of genres that pranks comprise; offers a theoretical look at the reception of practical jokes based on “benign transgression”—a theory that sees humor as playful violation—and uses real-life examples of practical jokes in context to establish the form’s varieties and meanings as an independent genre, as well as its inextricable relationship with a range of folklore forms. Scholars of folklore, humor, and popular culture will find much of interest in Practically Joking


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They Used to Call Me Snow White . . . But I Drifted
Women’s Strategic Use of Humor
Gina Barreca
University Press of New England, 2013
Published by Viking in 1991 and issued as a paperback through Penguin Books in 1992, Snow White became an instant classic for both academic and general audiences interested in how women use humor and what others (men) think about funny women. Barreca, who draws on the work of scholars, writers, and comedians to illuminate a sharp critique of the gender-specific aspects of humor, provides laughs and provokes arguments as she shows how humor helps women break rules and occupy center stage. Barreca’s new introduction provides a funny and fierce, up-to-the-minute account of the fate of women’s humor over the past twenty years, mapping what has changed in our culture—and questioning what hasn’t.

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How Feminists and Other Subversive Comics Speak Truth
Cynthia Willett
University of Minnesota Press, 2019
A radical new approach to humor, where traditional targets become its agents
Humor is often dismissed as cruel ridicule or harmless fun. But what if laughter is a vital force to channel rage against patriarchy, Islamophobia, or mass incarceration? To create moments of empathy and dialogue between Black Lives Matter and the police? These and other such questions are at the heart of this powerful reassessment of humor. Placing theorists in conversation with comedians, Uproarious offers a full-frontal approach to the very foundation of comedy and its profound political impact.
Here Cynthia Willett and Julie Willett address the four major theories of humor—superiority, relief, incongruity, and social play—through the lens of feminist and game-changing comics such as Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho, Hannah Gadsby, Hari Kondabolu, and Tig Notaro. They take a radical and holistic approach to the understanding of humor, particularly of humor deployed by those from groups long relegated to the margins, and propose a powerful new understanding of humor as a force that can engender politically progressive social movements. Drawing on a range of cross-disciplinary sources, from philosophies and histories of humor to the psychology and physiology of laughter to animal studies, Uproarious offers a richer understanding of the political and cathartic potential of humor.
A major new contribution to a wider dialogue on comedy, Uproarious grounds for us explorations of outsider humor and our golden age of feminist comics—showing that when women, prisoners, even animals, laugh back, comedy along with belly laughs forge new identities and alter the political climate.

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What's so Funny?
The Comic Conception of Culture and Society
Murray S. Davis
University of Chicago Press, 1993
Jokes, puns, stories, tales, sketches, and shticks saturate our culture. And today the stuff of comedy is almost inescapable, with all-comedy cable channels and stand-up comics acting as a kind of electronic oracle. We're laughing more often, but what are we laughing at? Murray Davis knows. In this inventive book, he uses jokes (good, bad, offensive, and classic) to reveal the truths that comedians deliver. What's So Funny? is not about the psychology of humor but about the objects of our laughter—the world that comics turn upside down and inside out. It also explores the logic of comedy as a serious, critical assault on just about everything we take for granted.

Drawing on a vast array of jokes and the work of dozens of comedians from Jay Leno and Lenny Bruce to Steve Allen and Billy Crystal, Davis reminds us of the extraordinarily subversive power of comedy. When we laugh, we accept the truth of the comic moment: that this is the way life really is. The book is in two parts. In the first, Davis explores the cultural conventions that even simple jokes take apart—the rules of logic, language, rationality, and meaning. In the second, he looks at the social systems that have been at the root of jokes for centuries: authority figures, power relations, and institutions. Whatever their style, comedians use the tools of the trade—ambiguous meanings, missed signals, incongruous characters, unlikely events—to violate our expectations about the world.

Setting comedy within a rich intellectual tradition—from Plato to Freud, Hobbes to Kant, in philosophy as well as sociology—Davis makes a convincing case for comedy as a subtle, complex, and articulated theory of culture and society. He reveals the unsuspected ways in which comedy, with its spotlight on the gap between appearance and reality, the ideal and the actual, can be a powerful mode for understanding the world we have made.

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Humor and Morality in Everyday Life
David Shoemaker
University of Chicago Press, 2024
A philosopher’s case for the importance of good—if ethically questionable—humor.

A good sense of humor is key to the good life, but a joke taken too far can get anyone into trouble. Where to draw the line is not as simple as it may seem. After all, even the most innocent quips between friends rely on deception, sarcasm, and stereotypes and often run the risk of disrespect, meanness, and harm. How do we face this dilemma without taking ourselves too seriously?

In Wisecracks, philosopher David Shoemaker examines this interplay between humor and morality and ultimately argues that even morally suspect humor is an essential part of ethical life. Shoemaker shows how improvised “wisecracks” between family and friends—unlike scripted stand-up, sketches, or serials—help us develop a critical human skill: the ability to carry on and find the funny in tragedy. In developing a new ethics of humor in defense of questionable gibes, Wisecracks offers a powerful case for humor as a healing presence in human life.

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Without a Stitch in Time
A Selection of the Best Humorous Short Pieces
Peter De Vries
University of Chicago Press, 1972
Harking from the golden age of fiction set in American suburbia—the school of John Updike and Cheever—this work from the great American humorist Peter De Vries looks with laughter upon its lawns, its cocktails, and its slightly unreal feeling of comfort. Without a Stitch in Time, a selection of forty-six articles and stories written for the New Yorker between 1943 and 1973, offers pun-filled autobiographical vignettes that reveal the source of De Vries’s nervous wit: the cognitive dissonance between his Calvinist upbringing in 1920s Chicago and the all-too-perfect postwar world. Noted as much for his verbal fluidity and wordplay as for his ability to see humor through pain, De Vries will delight both new readers and old in this uproarious modern masterpiece.

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