If you tell a joke and nobody laughs… is it still funny? Maybe. But funny or not, jokes still have point. There’s a reason you tell the joke in the first place and whether or not people laugh, is one thing, but whether or not they understand your point…. That’s a much bigger issue.
Turner’s article points to social life and experience as the driving force behind comedy. I would seem that one’s experiences, surroundings, as well as one’s relationships with those around them are the main influences upon whether or not a certain joke is understood. If one does not understand the social contexts of a joke, they might not get the point because the teller and the hearer are of such different backgrounds. For instance, in LaMott’s story, we, as Americans understand the bits of humor included with the various mentions of George Bush throughout the text, but someone less familiar with his presidency might not understand the humor of the points brought up.
Turner goes a little further into this when he talks about the difference between half and whole incomprehensibility. According to him, if something is half incomprehensible, it creates wonder, whereas, if something is completely incomprehensible, it will create boredom. This idea of creating wonder can be seen in Millman’s story where as the narrator learns of Iceland and things she can only halfway grasp, her intrigue grows and becomes insatiable.
This same idea can apply to humor. Somebody who does not know American politics at all may be extremely bored by LaMott’s constant mention of it, but someone who has a bit of an idea can still get many of the points in a way that could still keep them interested.
Douglas agrees with Turner in his article saying that one’s social life affects the perception one has of a joking situation. Douglas talks about joking as a kind of anti-rite, saying that, “The message of a standard rite is that the ordained patterns of social life are inescapable [while] the message of a joke is that they are escapable” (156). Humor, for Douglas, connects and disorganizes. In order to do this though, we must go back to Turner’s point that the social environment must be shared amongst all parties. It is impossible disorganize that which is not already understood as organized amongst you.
I saw this at work recently at my service learning site. The students have been reading the book, The Corner, written by the creators of The Wire. The book centers around the lifestyle of drug dealers in Baltimore city. This kind of social surrounding is not altogether unfamiliar to these students, so they know the general social patterns inherent in the situation. The teacher of this class is an older white male who clearly does not share the same background as the students.
One day, in class, the students were discussing the dialogue used in the book, because much of it is written in the dialect of the drug dealers themselves which is very different from the language one might be used to hearing in the classroom. A lot of the kids said they could understand it well and one of them raised her hand and asked the teacher if he did and his answer was, “Yeah! I didn’t have a problem at all!”, to which the students burst out laughing. For them, this was a situation where they’re social patterns were disrupted. For this older white man, and their teacher nonetheless, to be able to connect with the world of the book in that way completely disorganized their understood structure of society and that juxtaposition was hilarious for them.
Because there was an understood experience or social understanding, the kids could laugh at a spontaneous joke made by the professor. Although, perhaps not an intentional joke, there was humor present in the claim because of this shared social experience. Understanding of context seems to be crucial to humor as a whole, because without it, audiences tend to be lost.