“I get it, but it’s just not funny”: Why humour fails, after all is said and done

Adrian Hale

Abstract


Failed humour can be explained by communicative gaps, at either the semantic or pragmatic levels, but sometimes, after all is ‘said and done’, people resist humour for purely discursive reasons. Some may recognise the divisive nature of a humorous text, and experience conflicting feelings. Others may welcome humour purely because of its appeal to ideology, while the text itself may not be considered as being very funny. Then there are people who ‘go along with the joke’ purely to avoid losing face. Political humour is a site of great power, where the stakes are high. For example, Donald Trump rejected Baldwin’s SNL parody, finding his ‘alter ego’ “unwatchable” and “not funny”. Other politicians, and members of the public, however, choose to respond to political humour in diverse ways. The reception of humour, therefore, is more complex than it appears. We might resist humour because of a deficiency in linguistic competence, but we might also resist humour because of literacy competence. This paper will theorise that there exists a ‘default setting’ in a person’s discourse, such that when encountering an instance of humour, we all employ a discursive defence mechanism (DDM), and that there are ‘triggers’ which provoke this DDM.

Keywords


failed humour; face theory; Discursive Defence Mechanism; linguistic competence

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7592/EJHR2018.6.1.hale

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