On going too far


practical jokes

How to Cite

Marsh, M. (2015). On going too far. The European Journal of Humour Research, 2(4), 126–139. https://doi.org/10.7592/EJHR2014.2.4.marsh


In the vernacular ideology of humour there are definite ideas about where the limits of joke acceptability lie. In practice, many joke performances seem to go beyond those limits and yet arouse little if any opposition. This paper considers the role that limits play in humour through case studies of two successful practical joke performances. I argue that the performance and appreciation of jokes consists in the playful transgression of limits, but not just those that happen to be contentious in a particular socio-political moment. Even in an apparently innocuous and widely supported joke there are indications of hypothetical disagreement that index awareness of transgression. The acceptability of specific jokes is socially constructed in very context-specific ways that transmute limits without obliterating them. The reception of practical jokes suggests that awareness of limits is ever-present, even in jokes that are completely successful.


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