Humor & Politics

The Humor & Politics Working Group’s long-term goal is to examine the relationship between politics and humor, with reference to film and television ranging from the intellectual and satirical to slapstick and even the scatological. We will accompany those viewings with readings of literature from different cultures and time periods, to help us identify some of the enduring features of the relationship between humor and political life. These materials will be supplemented by brief selections of philosophical and theoretical treatment of the same questions.

Meetings are held monthly on weekday evenings between 7 and 9 pm in Perkins-Rubinstein 349. The meetings are fairly informal and welcome a mix of undergraduates, grad students, and faculty. Attendance at one meeting does not commit you to attend others. The Working Group will provide dinner from local restaurants and a selection of beverages at each meeting. 

Some of the questions that interest the working group include:

  • What are the sources and mechanisms of humor? Why do we find certain things funny (and others not)?
  • What are the political limits of acceptable humor? How do we distinguish between the provocative and the offensive?
  • Does humor solidify or divide communities?
  • Does humor support or undermine political institutions?
  • What– if any– are the ethical responsibilities of political satire?”

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2017-2018 Meetings

  • The Ridiculous and the Ridiculed (February 6, 2018)

2016-2017 Meetings:

  • “Assume a Can Opener:” An Inquiry into the Nature and Cause of Economist Jokes, with Professor Geoffrey Brennan and Professor Michael Munger (March 28, 2017)
  • The Perils of Presidential Comedy (Feb 1, 2017)
  • Viral Talk: The 2016 Election via Gifs and Memes (Nov 9, 2016)
  • Political Cartoons: Now and Then (Sep 14, 2016)

2015-2016 Meetings:

  • Feminist and Female Comedians (March 28, 2016)
  •  Conservative Humor Through the Ages (February 1, 2016)
  • Politicians as Comedians and Comedians as Politicians (October, 2015)
  • Dinner with Scott Dikkers, founding editor of The Onion (September 21, 2015)
  •  The Real Impact of Fake News (September 9, 2015)

2014-2015 Meetings:

  • Humor and Free Speech (March 31, 2015)
  • Humor and Democracy (February 24, 2015)
  • Humor and Totalitarianism (January 20, 2015)
  • Sex and Politics (December 4, 2014)
  • War and Humor (October 22, 2014)
  • Enduring Jokes (September 18, 2014)