Recent Advancements and Revelations in the Academic Study of Comedy
Researchers worldwide have been conducting many critical studies on the science of comedy this past year, giving hope to all that a cure for cancer will never, ever be found. Here are some of the more extraordinary findings that will forever impact what it means to laugh.
– A study called “The Cultural Currency of a ‘Good’ Sense of Humour” in the British Journal of Sociology found that comedy solidifies the levels of social hierarchy. People with money feel that their highbrow jokes about rich people things make them better than lower-class people, whose humor about everyday things like beer and rocks and arm hair are ”ignorant” and “thick.” Said University of Ediburgh sociologist Sam Friedman: “Far from illustrating crumbing class hierarchies, the increasing popularity of comedy among the middle classes simply shows how the privileged are now using their superior cultural skills to distinguish themselves in pop culture as well as the high arts.” Upon completion of the study, the authors resumed their usual hobby of baiting orphans into rush hour traffic with a dollar on a string.
– In Anthropological Quarterly, Susan Seizer looked into the use of bad words in stand-up comedy. Her research found that cursing during a set brings down barriers of formality between the comics and their audience. Everyone’s more comfortable, so comics show greater confidence in their performance and audiences reciprocate by barking and slapping their arms together like seals.
– The Journal of Popular Culture published a study called, “Loose Cannons: White Masculinity and the Vulgar Teen Comedy Film.” It found that movies like Porky’s and American Pie depict a turning point in privileged young men’s perceived right to “behave hedonistically on other people’s territory.” White kids, these movies teach us, can’t actually do whatever they want, and often they can be their own worst enemies. This notion starkly contrasts comedies of the 30s and 40s, where all conflict involved not having a tall enough hat.
– From the International Journal of Press/Politics¸ a study called “The Influence of Late-Night TV Comedy Viewing on Political Talk” discovered that people—especially young ones—are more likely to watch political programming and participate in political discussions if they watch late-night comedy shows. Yet because the study was published before The Mo’Nique Show went on hiatus, all its findings are now null and void.
– An Israeli research team found that laughter may be helpful to women trying to become pregnant through in-vitro fertilization. Among the women studied, 36% became pregnant if they were visited by a professional “medical clown” shortly after receiving the embryo, yet only 20% were successful without a visit from Konception Krusty. It was also reported that if you’re laughing at a handicapped person at time of conception, your baby is 95% likely to come out a mangled monstrosity.
– From the Rhetoric Review comes a study called “Native American Stand-Up Comedy: Epideictic Strategies in the Contact Zone.” The research focuses on Native American comics and how their work uproots audience assumptions. Some of the ideas were a little too big to swallow, but it turns out South Park wasn’t spot on in its depiction of Native American stand-up.
– In its paper titled “Couple Interactions as Portrayed in Television Comedy Series,” the Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapyreached a groundbreaking conclusion: “The results of this study reflect what was found in previous media research—that television portrays both unhealthy and healthy relationships.” If this didn’t get the tenure committee’s attention, then may the world of academia be vaporized in a puff of smoke and tweed.
Steve Etheridge is a writer living in Chicago. He has written for McSweeney’s, CollegeHumor, and other places that are similar.