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Failed Humor

  • By: Nancy Bell
  • In: Encyclopedia of Humor Studies
  • Edited by: Salvatore Attardo
  • Subject:General Media, Communication & Cultural Studies, Sociology of Culture

A complete theory of humor must take into account its failure. An attempt at humor may not succeed for a variety of reasons; due to problems on either the speaker's or hearer's side and because of the important role humor plays in the maintenance of human relationships, its failure presents an interactional dilemma for both participants. Speakers whose attempts at humor fail because they were not understood or not appreciated by the audience clearly risk loss of face for their blunder. Less apparent, perhaps, are the challenges faced by the audience, whose failure to recognize or understand a joke may label them, as well, as interactionally incompetent.

One of the main difficulties in working on failed humor is in its identification. Distinguishing a sincere, if poor ...

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