On Humour 4


Simon Critchley’s “On Humour”

Does humour, in its actual sense, make us human? Or do cats and dogsalso laugh with us? Simon Critchley`s &quotOn Humour&quot is abeautiful, fascinatingly crafted funny book, which talks about howhumour can tell us, as humans, about being human. The authorskillfully investigates a few of the most dominating, but leastcomprehended aspects on the essence of humour (Critchley, 2002, p.51). For example, he probes on why humans mock death by using comedyand why humans think it is funny when they act like machines.

The author also examines the darker side of what makes up humour –as rife with racism and sexism – and argues that it could beimportant to remind us of what humans would rather not turn out tobe. In his book, &quotOn Humour,&quot Critchley (2002) says,&quotHumour is local and a sense of humour is usually highlycontext-specific&quot (p.67). Regarding his argument above, theauthor offers a rather abstract account of what humour is. The paper,therefore, will identify and study specific examples from a series ofcomedic texts in support of this argument he puts forward.

Whyhumour is Local and is highly Context-specific

A sense of humour is considered highly context-specific, accordingto Critchley (2002, p. 11). To begin with, the issue of incongruityregarding humour, in support of Critchley`s sentiments, has not beenappropriately solved and thus remains local, with Cavaliero (2000)noting that &quotit may prove to be impossible over the long term toresolve&quot (p.39). To point out towards having a solution, thesite-specificity of humour requires having the social context oflocality in which incongruity is based, for example, in the TV comedyshow, “I Love Lucy,” a 1950s situation comedy show. This TVcomedy show backs up Critchley`s sentiments, whereby Gournelos &ampGreene (2011, p.13) noted that it is possible to have humour formedat the back of &quothabitus.&quot The TV comedy show easily links“with the locality, context`s specificity, and one which connectsand positions the social structure of comedy.”

Critchley`s argument is developed from the fact that humour is about&quotdoing&quot rather than &quotsaying.&quot Highly-contextspecific humour is about gesture, object, or action. From Halliwell’s(2008) sentiments, it is &quotnot the punch line or the setup, butits delivery system&quot (p.5). Critchley`s arguments also extendto what Weaver (2007, p.110) terms as the &quotshort synapse,&quotwhich is based on the TV comedy show, “I Love Lucy,” where the“1:1 ratio of the actual joke to laugh.” By terming the show&quotlocal,&quot it meant that it does not require a specifiedaudience. For example, when it comes to mainstream performances, itdepends on performing on stage in from of the audience, and in thatscenario, laughter is regarded as currency. Highly site-specifichumour simply enjoys a concept not offered in the mainstream, whichmeans it does not get lonely.

Breton &amp Polizotti (2009, p. 57) supports Critchley`ssentiments in that humour, in its locality, is more permanent andrely main on illusionism on. One humour done remains just that,funny. For example, in the comedy TV show, “Bones” directed byBarry Josephson, hearing a joke for more than once diminishes orcurtails the funniness it has, considering the show comes with adarkly amusing drama. Therefore, the specificity of gestureportrayed remains with greater longevity. The illusionism thatCritchley argues on a sense of humour is that it remains on itsactual original place and eases tension.

&quotTo do rather than to say,&quot according to Gournelos &ampGreene (2011), from the comedy TV show “Bones,” remains theeasiest way to remember, especially when the antagonist, “has anuncanny way to read and identify clues found in the victim’sbones.” The show supports Critchley`s &quothumour is local&quottext by stating that &quotthe simplest humour is, the more itremains core to its efficacy&quot (p.12). Critchley avoids speakingof art and through the accessibility and transparency of languagehelps articulates new vocabulary and a framework to expound on comicsensibilities, which transcends the sense of local humour.Additionally, Critchley`s &quotOn Humour&quot also expounds on thisabout philosophical treatises of the sort. In Chapter 5, the 1950scomedy TV show “I Love Lucy” struck a chord regarding itsargument on the specificity of humour when it regards &quotforeignershas being a funny lot,&quot which means “the ethnicity andethnicity of humour”. Here, the truth of this statement is that thesense of humour is local, but could be a little bit universal.

Bamidele (2001) argues that &quotnumerous studies of comic,humour, and jokes starts by taking a claim to the universality ofhumour&quot (p.7), a statement drawn from the TV comedy show“Bones.” However, the TV show supports Critchley`s abstractaccount of humour stating that it is like saying little or almostnothing when the humour is regarded as universal, rather than local.To agree on this, he disregards it, is like saying that all culturesmay laugh, which may appear as a formal universal truth, but it failsto indicate anything at the specific text level. Additionally,Narváez, (2003, p.35) cements Critchley`s sentiments by emphasizingthat to concrete comedians do need require audiences.

To develop this statement, humour is established in the &quothabitus,&quotwhich is inclusive, as stated above, regarding its site-specificity,connection, and locality. Habitus, the concept coined by Andrews(2013, p.97), describes a person`s body and social environment.Habitus is created socially however, it simultaneously targetsindividuals, a section of the environment, and is ingrained on anindividual`s body. Habitus can also be defined a part of&quotdispositions,&quot which declines act agents and react in aparticular manner. These dispositions create practices, attitudes,and perceptions, which are regular without having to be governed orcoordinated by any specific rule.

Using habitus means a method is provided for the explanation ofhumour situated historically and socially, while ensuring astructured element remain in that situation. Halliwell (2008, p.22)argues that jokes made may be funny and incongruities would differ inone particular social setting for some people and not on others.Here, he agrees to Critchley`s arguments that it is a specific socialsetting relationship and habitus to the joke`s structure and contentthat generates humour.

The situation described above is something that requires properanalysis in particular scenarios, although it is easy to suggesthumour specificity on context and an allegorical rule will tend topush away from associating with habitus, while other forms ofincongruity generate different types of habitus separation. Accordingto Weaver (2007, p.87), humour is a kind of incongruity, which doesnot &quotthreaten habitus existence.&quot Humour incongruityreflects on its locality as is reflected by the 2000s NBC’Ssituation comedy, “Friends” when Monica Geller said that&quotamusement ensures a disharmonious situation simultaneously, andassures that everything is working right despite Phoebe Buffayretraction of her sentiments regarding sticking noses to otherpeople’s swapping romance&quot (p. 8). Humour is local in that its&quotincongruity maintains closeness to the affirmation of habitusboundary since it goes back to it&quot (p.9).

To say that humour is local, means putting everything related tohumour and a sense of humour into context. Local meanscontextualizing abstract account of humour, which uses things one canrelate with. For example, a sense of humour may demonstrate theemergence of a particular element considered habitus regarding itsorigin around issues of race, racism, and the body. Gutwirth (1993)agrees that humour is local and &quotcan impact on a person`sidentity&quot (p.83). For example, a movie may appear to ridiculeindividual black hair by using negative descriptions, in a widersociety, may turn out as a regular element, which embodies racismfrom a local context of the people involved.

Critchley`s statement forms the basis of certain forms of comicdiscourse in relation to identifying with racist humour as part ofeliciting humorousness by habitual discourse. The use of racisthumour, for example, as a representation of placing it incontext-specific form, offers a context that the comedy TV show“Bones” supports on the essence of &quotarticulating humourpreference while placing consideration of temporal effect ofindividual, structural, temporal, conscious and unconscious factorsinto local context&quot (p.16). On the local aspects of habitualdiscourse, it is of essence to note that all comedy forms are createdat a particular time and then are mediated. This means that thehighly context-specific sense of humour is supported by Halliwell(2008) when he stated that &quotthe age-old discourse tend to alterthe actual meaning as people`s social locality shifts with time&quot(p.23).

&quotA sense of humour is highly context-specific,&quot accordingto (Critchley, 2002, p. 11), means that in it is a result of apsychological specificity within an individual to provide emotionalrelief. A sense of humour concentrates on the changes in individuals`physiological and psychological state of laughing. Gantar (2005, p.9)is in agreement with the statement by stating a typical outlook thata sense of humour achieves nothing else in itself rather than byworking off on excess energy catalyzed by specific incongruity types.

Again, &quothumour is local&quot in that it is through nervousenergy release and a representation of a person`s expression ofthoughts not acceptable socially as serious discourse. As expressedearlier, identifies a sense of humour from a racist context. Hultin(2008, p.32) agrees with Critchley`s sentiments that when one ispresented with a discursive content from a particular locality, moreoften than it allows particular form of expression to ensure the sameform of censure is subjected to its &quotit`s just a joke&quotnature, a reflection of a comedic text from the comedy TV show, “ILove Lucy.” In the TV show, the highly specific context racistjokes presented may have a sense of humour that “expressesundesirable thoughts, socially, in certain places, but resonates wellin other sections of the localities. Additionally, Cavaliero (2000,p.39) adds that a sense of humour represent a camouflage thatfunctions as a temporary deceit of the superego as repressions arebeing released suddenly.

Critchley`s argument on a sense of humour is highly specific on thecontext of individual unconsciousness. Fournier-Lanzoni (2014, p.21)supports this claim based on the sincerity of the joker – his orher unconscious expression in case he or she cracks a racist joke,whose specificity is on a discursive content. This may result in anumber of communicative effects and potential discursive effects,which may not appear as comic as it should. A sense of humour in thiscase is not observed consciously by those receiving or expressing theactual meanings of humour, even in its abstract nature.

In support of Critchley`s sentiments that &quota sense of humouris highly context-specific,&quot most actors, both protagonists andantagonists, create the kind of comedy that is designed for aspecific context. For example, Barry Josephson’s comedy TV show“Bones,” illustrates this by through a story about an encounterbetween two artists (comedians), Fred Allen and Jack Benny. Theirencounter is at the Los Angeles airport where Jack greets Fred with asignboard that reads: &quotJack welcomes Fred.&quot

A sense of humour portrayed in that text is hidden and it had tohappen at the location (airport), and in person and not any otherplace. When granted, the documentation of the text may treat theaudience present to the joke however, the humour in the text hadalready occurred on location. Here, what is seen is a comedy, whichis entirely context-specific.

Again, Bamidele (2001, p.9) develops a rationale based onCritchley`s argument by illustrating an image, which describes oneperson telling another about how her counselor became exhaustedattempting to engage deeply with her (first person). This is becauseshe was gesturing metaphorically for both of them to have their handscome closer, while flipping with the other. This image illustratesthe ethos belonging to merry prankster context-specific comedians.Gournelos &amp Greene (2011, p.14) noted that comedians tend to havea sense of humour from a particular element with the idea ofdeveloping highly context-specific humour (jokes) all the while theknowledge that the audiences are not necessarily important parties tothe comedy.

Weaver (2007, p.87) support Critchley`s argument by drawingexamples from the art world stating that comedy, today, is a darlingthe art. Here, he uses art to mean a recognized cultural institution,for example Chelsea art gallery, to mean a gallery, which everyoneloves to hate. Here, his sentiments are evidence that artists` areable to exhibit dark sense of humour and that most of them make funnyjokes. Still, one would think about the number of institutions andcurators over the last decade that have since embraced comedyperformances and exhibitions.

Other examples of comedic texts supporting Critchley`s argumentsabout the locality of humour are evidenced by Weaver (2007) examplesof today`s comedians. He gives an example of Russel Peters who doesnot &quotmake a decent living by polarizing both people and thesociety&quot (p.112). Of importance in this text is that thiscomedian only focuses on the specificity of a few nuances ofunderstanding people`s culture. These negotiations over what to focuson occur in the habitus. While evaluating different cultures, theidea that humour is local, based on Critchley`s sentiments aresupported by Breton &amp Polizotti (2009) what he argues that&quotbelieves in multiculturalism and understanding of differentcultures are constructed through experiences, cultural and socialcapital&quot (p.45).

A sense of humour, according to Critchley`s arguments, is highlycontext-specific in that such things as stereotypes incorporated fordark humour have become the subject of race, ethnicity, and racisthumour. These specifics may have no sustainability in announcing thetruth in value based on dichotomous stereotypes, which describes thecomplexity surrounding social reality, and yet it exudes presence asense of humour (Andrews, 2013, p.98). Additionally, Andrews (2013)supports the statement arguing that &quothumour has a way ofdisrupting habitus boundaries, while focusing on the little thingsthat make the difference&quot (p.16).

The above extract echoes other context-specific instances of humourin the TV show “I Love Lucy” drawing extracts from the &quotpleasureof laughter.&quot In the comedy show, for example, the dark humour,for instance, has specifics of pleasure, which attain a sense ofhumour through “making others feel uncomfortable,” according toWeaver (2011, p.17). In this text, a sense of humour is attainedthrough the degradation of other people not present. A sense ofhumour is put into context by twisting the pleasure of making funappear as harmless as possible, more so if it has &quota sadisticelement&quot (Bajac-Carter et al., 2014, p.54). The release ofnervousness in dark humour is not beyond numerous critiques becauseit offers pleasure for both the receptive audience and the joker.Gatrell (2007, p.23) explains how a sense of humour is highlycontext-specific regarding the specificities of a combination ofpleasure and hatred.

In his book, Narváez, (2003) boosts Critchley`s statement bysuggesting that &quotbigots take absolute pleasure in the joy ofhate and hating&quot (p.35). He argued that the local anti-Semites,for example, finds this amusing to treat such humour texts with theseriousness it deserves because they know that their beliefs, basedon the &quotlocal humour&quot they are used to, are absurd. Humouris local in that the rantings made by the anti-Semites, especiallywhile in fascist political gatherings, &quotare nothing butorganized humour&quot (p.36). Additionally, the approach is that theexamination is a consummate of humour mechanism with key conceptsindicating displacement and condensation of humour devices.

Finally, Critchley`s abstract account of humour as is seen from thestatement understudy resonates with other different texts throughdrawing relevance of the local nature of humour in itself and thespecificity of the context. From all the comedic texts outlinedabove, one method that resonates across the discourse is interlinkedprocedures. In certain situations of humour, a particular stage maybecome dominant, but existence in such contexts to some extent.


Humour, according to the paper, makes us human. A focus onCritchley`s book &quotOn Humour,&quot being a well-crafted, funny,and fascinating book touched on the pleasure of laughter, darkhumour, and the specificities of placing a sense of humour intocontext. Critchley’s argument that humour is local and that a senseof humor is considered to be highly context-specific is studied indetail. The paper draws comedic examples from varied texts. Thesetexts are varied in that they are set from a wider area of thespectrum.

For instance, sense of humour is agreed upon, while drawing examplesfrom direct texts. Again, these comedic texts are ranges from darkhumour, laughter, and nature. Again, artists and comedians arebrought into the picture as part of the support about art. Here, thepaper draws examples from specific encounters on location, which istargeted at engaging in discursive content. The relevance ofCritchley`s text is based on varied instances with examples varyingfrom dichotomous stereotypes to the degradation of people throughdark humour and incongruity of the habitus.


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