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. As in previous years, the Working Group will provide dinner from local restaurants and a selection of beverages at each meeting. 

In addition, the Humor and Politics Working Group will organize an end-of-the-year workshop/conference, featuring original research by Duke faculty, graduate students, advanced undergraduates and guests from outside of the US.

This year, the working group will be particularly concerned with analyzing and re-visiting questions including:

  • 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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2016-2017 Meetings:

  • 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 26th, 2015)
  • Dinner with Scott Dikkers, founding editor of The Onion (September 21st, 2015)
  •  The Real Impact of Fake News (September 9th, 2015)

2014-2015 Meetings:

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