What’s In a Joke?: Bergson and the Art of Humour

by Fraser Gray

Disclaimer: In this paper, several examples of “stereo-phthonic” jokes are used, which were originally found online, and which many readers may find distressing. Although it is obvious that the author does not support the views expressed in these jokes since they criticise their harmful nature, the author apologises for any discomfort, offence, or even harm that the jokes may cause.

Comedians are constantly scrutinised for the kinds of jokes they tell. This year has been no exception, with a multitude of well-known comedians coming under fire for what have been perceived by many as derogatory, offensive, and even harmful, jokes. Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais have been criticised by many for promoting transphobic attitudes; Chris Rock was slapped to his senses after insulting people who suffer from alopecia. However, many comedians (particularly Chappelle and Gervais) argue that these condemnations are unwarranted. After all, for them and many others, jokes are just jokes. In other words, if you can’t take a joke, it’s because you’re a “precious snowflake” who gets offended at the drop of a hat. But is there anything to the argument that “jokes are just jokes” and that, therefore, they are exempt from questions of morality? That is, is there something about the form of jokes–that is, their structure–which makes them exempt from moral implications? Is it ever ethically wrong to laugh at or tell a joke?  

These questions have received much debate in the ethics of humour. Proponents of the position that “jokes are just jokes” (let’s call them “joke apologists”) suggest that it is never wrong to laugh at a joke because they do not possess the serious import of regular discourse and are, thus, both morally and literally harmless. Philosophers like Christie Davies for instance, have claimed that one cannot simply suggest that jokes have the same impact as serious discourse because their form is distinct from said discourse.[i] Jokes may offend, but they do not cause the same kind of consequential harm as hateful, ideological rhetoric which⁠—in contrast to mere jokes⁠—is aimed at transforming society in a such a way that injuring minority groups would become more acceptable. However, in contrast to joke-apologists, Ronald de Sousa has argued that laughing at such jokes does indeed cause harm because “…it involves a movement of alienation” which is “…founded on… an underlying identification [by the audience]” with a community from which the one laughed at is deemed to be implicitly outside of.[ii] This forms the basis for what de Sousa has labelled “phthonic” jokes, which are those that require “a victim… who typically does not laugh but knows only too well what’s funny to those who do.”[iii] As such, de Sousa argues that the joke form is not exempt from moral implications because of the ways in which some jokes, regardless of their status as jokes, can still express a harmful, alienating mirth which he identifies as being worthy of moral condemnation.[iv] This is particularly true of a sub-set of phthonic jokes which express at their base a certain racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, or other such attitude that aims to alienate whole classes of people, a class of jokes which will henceforward be referred to as “stereo-phthonic jokes” in order to encapsulate the idea that they are underpinned by problematic stereotypes in addition to just their alienating, “phthonic” potential.[v]

I will contribute to these discussions by highlighting the implications of a seemingly overlooked claim in Henri Bergson’s 1901 essay Laughter. This is the claim that humour is a type of art that, in virtue of its being art, brings us face to face with reality by ignoring the “…conventional and socially accepted generalities” that mediate our everyday experience of the world.[vi] Utilising Bergson’s idea, I argue that stereo-phthonic jokes are not exempt from moral implications, and thus that it is wrong both to tell them and to laugh at them. This is because they attempt to criticise the conventions that life and society have put in place and, in turn, attempt to suggest that certain falsehoods may be correct. In doing so, stereo-phthonic jokes can harm their victim/s to the extent that they make the alienation of certain groups of people increasingly possible on a larger scale. Another aspect of Bergson’s philosophy that I will explore throughout my analysis is the notion of sensibility, which refers to our capacity to become emotionally invested in the object under humourful examination.[vii] On this view, one may be morally reprimanded or even excluded from a community for having an improper sensibility. That is, for being too insensible to the (problematic) humour contained within a stereo-phthonic joke. Although de Sousa correctly argues that this represents a problematic separation between humour and emotion, Bergson’s theory demonstrates the dangers of not condemning moral insensibility. For without said condemnation, one’s insensibility towards stereo-phthonic jokes can lead to the production of societies where harmful alienation of certain groups of people is socially acceptable.

I. Bergson’s Theory of Humour

To clarify Bergson’s position of humour as a form of art, we must first understand what his views on the metaphysics of humour are, as this forms the basis of his analysis. Ultimately, his theory of humour comes down to a distinction between mechanism or rigidity in the comic object, and what Bergson calls, on the other hand, “life.” That is to say, in Bergson’s view, something is humourous when the comic object is rigid or mechanical at a time when it ought really to be flexible or adaptable to the circumstances of life.[viii] To clarify, the notion of life here encapsulates a certain tension and elasticity that demands that one adapt to their given situation.[ix] Elasticity, on this understanding, may be broadly conceived as adaptability, whereas tension is what arises from life’s demand to adapt. Bergson’s classic example to illustrate this is of a person who, whilst walking, suddenly stumbles and falls. While scenarios like this are not always comedic, as it usually isn’t funny when the fall looks painful or when it involves a physically disabled or elderly person, it does provide a clear illustration of this tension⁠—between life (adaptability), and rigidity or mechanism⁠—which Bergson believes is always at play in the humorous. More specifically, Bergson argues that the reason such situations are so often humourous is that the “walker” in the scenario did not spontaneously decide to sit down themselves, but were rather forced to do the same⁠ kind of thing (to “sit” in a related but rather different sense of the word⁠) as a direct result of the rigidity of their movement which⁠—importantly⁠—they both could and should have altered.[x] Thus humour, for Bergson, requires that there be the possibility that one could have adapted to the demands of life when they, in fact, reduced themselves to acting according to the mechanism; or, to put it in a slightly different way, it requires that in the singular moment when life makes its demands known⁠ (and in a phrase often attributed to Bergson’s commentators) there remains “something mechanical encrusted on the living,” some continuation of rigidity in a moment when life demanded adaptability.[xi]

However, as Bergson notes, it is not merely life which makes demands, but society as well. These further, societal demands, are not really distinct from those of life but rather an aspect to which the demands of life are emphasised. That is to say, society for Bergson adds an extra dimension to life: that we live well by maintaining the greatest degree of elasticity and, thus, sociability.[xii] This demand to live well may be seen in the form of social conventions which are, on this reading, the inscription of the demands of life into unwritten rules. This reflects Bergson’s assertion that the comic cannot be appreciated in isolation, as “laughter always implies a kind of secret… complicity, with other laughers, real or imaginary.”[xiii] As such, the comic and laughter have a notable social significance because of their roots in social life. Bergson also notes that the comic will only come into play when there is a kind of  absence of feeling amongst those engaged in it.[xiv] This is because Bergson equates emotional investment with personal interest, so that if one were to feel sympathetic to the object of the joke, then the object assumes a kind of importance to one’s life⁠—an importance corresponding to a concern for the object and how we should respond to the given joke⁠—that prevents one from properly identifying the rigidity at play in the comic material (in turn eliminating the joke’s comic power). In other words, the one who laughs will be devoid of emotion and only engage their intelligence. This is a central point of Bergson’s theory, but also a problematic separation between reason and emotion—an important issue that I pick up again later when I discuss the importance of moral sensibility.

Another important aspect of Bergson’s theory is his claim that comedy must have human characters as its object.  That is, “…the comic does not exist outside the pale of what is strictly HUMAN.”[xv] This does not necessarily imply that we cannot laugh at animals or even inanimate objects, but that the comedic element in these things is its “…resemblance to man [sic], of the stamp he gives it or the use he put it to.”[xvi] For instance, we might laugh at the rigid movement of an animal because it reminds us of a rigidity found in humans or in the design that a human being has given to a hat. This is because, on Bergson’s view, comedy only occurs when there is a strife between rigidity and free adaption, where free adaption is much easier to perceive in human beings than any other entity.[xvii] Thus, what we laugh at in things is their resemblance to widespread human rigidities or characters that appear in society and not rigidities in general. For example, a bee might always fly back to its hive at dusk, but this will rarely be funny on its own unless it is connected to some human trait.[xviii]

Following these principles, Bergson’s theory can be utilised to discern how the form of a joke functions. Although many will not find the joke I use below to illustrate this point funny (and I am sorry to disappoint via my poor sense of humour), it is, nonetheless, a clear example of the classic joke form (in terms of the joke’s set-up and punchline): 

You know, I must admit that I’m not the biggest fan of steampunk, but I will admit that it is by far the healthiest way to prepare punk.[xix]

In this case, when we hear the first part (or set-up) of the joke, we attempt to apply life to the situation. In short, we assume that the joke will relate to the science fiction genre known as steampunk. However, what we end up with is something mechanical in the punchline. That is, a rigid association that is fabricated between steampunk and the process of steaming food simply because attached to the word “punk” is the word “steam,” as though an imaginary human being would believe that one cooks “punk” because of this association. Therefore, on Bergson’s view, the object of the joke is the imaginary human character that would be so mechanical as to hear the word “steampunk” and infer that someone was talking about steaming a certain food.

Note that I am not claiming that Bergson’s theory of humour is able to account for the comic element in all jokes. For instance, it is difficult to explain how this analysis would be applied to moments of absurd idiosyncrasy in which one does something so random that it does not fit easily into the category of a known human rigidity. For instance, why would someone find “planking” funny? Before it became a meme phenomenon, seeing someone planking would have simply been absurd, a course of action human beings would not mechanistically perform. Nonetheless, there must have been something about it for it to catch on. The image of someone planking must have, at some point, simply struck one as funny, despite its absolute randomness (in fact, most memes seem to follow this absurd trajectory). So, it is not the case that all instances of humour will involve the encrustation of the mechanical on life. As we will see later in this essay, humour’s social embeddedness requires that one acquire an appropriate moral sensibility to ensure that one does not laugh at inappropriate moments. In essence, I am not here to act as the joke police, to tell you once and for all what is and is not funny and why. To do so would be, in my opinion, folly, since I am convinced that humour cannot be encapsulated by one all-encompassing theory. Rather, I only aim to explicate the essential features of Bergson’s theory of humour in order to ground the insights around an ethics of humour that I shall present in the following passages.

II. Humour as Art

Bergson’s theory of humour ultimately leads him to propose the central idea under examination in this paper. That is, the idea that humour is a kind of art. For Bergson, “…art, whether it be painting or sculpture, poetry or music, has no other object than to brush aside the utilitarian symbols, the conventional and socially accepted generalities; in short, everything that veils reality from us, in order to bring us face to face with reality itself.”[xx] By “utilitarian,” Bergson means the demand of life that requires us to view objects in relation to our own needs so that we may respond to them with appropriate reactions.[xxi] As such, “…between nature and ourselves…a veil is interposed” by life so that we should only see the utilitarian side of things (those things that have a direct relation to our needs) by dimming all of the object’s other elements.[xxii] Thus, Bergson’s “utilitarian symbols” and “conventional and socially accepted generalities” can be understood as those things which society establishes, through the demands of life, as the way in which objects should be perceived. In brushing these aside, art reveals to us objects in their most unmediated and raw state, their aspects which the utilitarianism of life and society hides from our perception.

However, whereas Bergson thinks that most forms of art isolate the nature of an individual object, humour “…is the ONLY one of all the arts that aims at the general.”[xxiii] Specifically, humour presents us with generalities that are supposed to be found across a certain class of people. That is, the rigidities, automatisms, absentminded moments, and mechanisms that appear regularly in a class of people that have been placed under examination in comedy. To achieve this, however, jokes and comedy in general must cast aside the utilitarianism of life and society that veil the rigidities attached to classes of human beings. In a sense, one must, for a moment, forget the ways in which society demands we respond to things to glimpse their mechanical aspects. Thus, jokes may be characterised as criticisms of the reasoning of life that society encourages; an attempt to play with falsehoods (those responses deemed by society as incorrect or as contrary to utilitarian life) and entertain them rather as possibilities⁠, possibilities of the kind that “…we might accept as true were we to hear them in a dream.”[xxiv] In other words, even if its ultimate goal is often to diffuse such rigidities, humour for Bergson is something which necessarily involves an initial suspension  of the current array of generally accepted social truths, through which the underlying rigidity is revealed. Jokes replace life with mechanism.

Here, we can already glimpse what makes stereo-phthonic jokes problematic: they cast certain groups of people in the light of a false rigidity. Take this stereo-phthonic joke as an example:

I remember back when the Harlem Shake was just a black fella holding me upside down off a fire-escape trying to collect his money.[xxv]

When utlising Bergson’s analysis of jokes, it is evident that this joke is problematic because it assigns certain rigidities to a class of human beings: black people. In this case, the rigidities include an engagement with criminal activity and an inclination towards violence. To clarify, Bergson’s analysis would follow this line of reasoning. First, we are inclined to respond appropriately (the way that life demands) to this joke by reference to the dance craze known as the Harlem Shake in the set-up. Specifically, the set-up causes our mind to make an easy or conventional association between the words “Harlem Shake” and a certain dance. Life’s demands are then brushed aside by the interjection of the rigidity (criminal and violent behaviour) associated with the object of the joke (black people). This association is made possible through the link between “Harlem” and black people (a neighbourhood in New York, stereotypically known as a majority black and high-crime area) and “shake” as a potentially violent act. The joke attempts to play with these initial associations and then interpose the stereotypically racist rigidities that are applied to black people.

As alluded to earlier, when these stereotypes are expressed in joke form, they become a challenge to society and life because they are entertained as true during the “…play of dreamland.”[xxvi] Consequently, the above joke is particularly problematic because it attempts to reorder society in line with these stereotypes. That is, it attempts to criticise current social conventions and replace them with the rigidities found in the joke. The joke form encourages this via its incitement to play, “a movement of relaxation” and “sympathy” towards the comic.[xxvii] To clarify, jokes and humour relax us into play by releasing the tension that life and society impose upon us through their demands, encouraging us to play with ideas by casting aside the utilitarian perspectives that have been constructed by society as true.

However, although telling a stereo-phthonic joke is straightforwardly problematic (for now), the same cannot be said, on Bergson’s view, of laughing at said joke. This is because laughter⁠—in turn understood as a kind of unconscious response meant to correct the mechanical and, thus, unsociable qualities that emerge in human beings—is conceived primarily as a means of correcting unsociable behaviour, such as that of the person telling the joke.[xxviii] For Bergson, it would seem, laughter is primarily something cruel, something that you subject people to, laughing at someone rather than with them. This would indeed suggest that it is never wrong to laugh, even at stereo-phthonic jokes, as it would be a means of correcting the joke teller’s behaviour.

Nevertheless, there is good reason not to agree with Bergson that this is laughter’s only function, or that it is effective for correcting an individual’s behaviour only by making “a painful impression on [them].”[xxix] This is because psychological research indicates that laughter is also a way in which individuals maintain and generate interpersonal relationships.[xxx] Indeed, laughing with people can be an effective means of building social bonds. Therefore, laughter at stereo-phthonic jokes can be easily misconstrued as an acceptance of the person and, importantly, their ideas into a community. Although it is true that, following Bergson’s logic, one of the functions of laughter will be this corrective character, this does not mean that it performs this function on every occasion.

Therefore, in line with psychological research into laughter, I claim that laughing at (as well as telling) stereo-phthonic jokes causes harm because it can be construed as expressing assent to the joke’s underlying stereotypes, alienating its victims from society in the process. Alienation causes harm because it allows one to view the victim as unworthy of community recognition and, thus, as an unworthy subject of the protections afforded to those identified as belonging to said community. This effectively creates the suggestion that certain people are “less than” other members of the community. Evidence of the resulting harm done is seen in some sociological studies which suggest that humour can increase an individual’s tendency to accept harmful attitudes. For instance, one study found that sexist humour increased men’s rape proclivity (a man’s willingness to rape a woman under the circumstance that they would not be discovered) if they were already hostile sexists.[xxxi] Another study found that racist jokes directed at black people disinhibited one’s expressions of prejudice towards them.[xxxii] Although these studies are limited by sample size, they indicate that stereo-phthonic jokes reduce their victims to socially acceptable targets of harmful alienation. That is, these kinds of jokes increase one’s proclivity to view certain groups of people as mere mechanical beings, unworthy of the protections that the utilitarianism of life and society provide.

It is still questionable or undecided—at least within this Bergsonian framework so far—whether stereo-phthonic jokes can be understood to actually produce immediate harm. This is because, thus construed, the only thing we have been able to say against these jokes, is that they are an attempt to restructure society such that—in the long-term—a harmful social alienation is produced. For example, some of us may unintentionally let out a slight chuckle at such jokes without approving of the underlying sentiment behind them; and there is nothing yet in our framework to suggest that this is problematic. Indeed, although many people laughed at Gervais’ and Chappelle’s transphobic jokes, I doubt that all of them would agree with the underlying sentiments of these jokes if they were expressed in regular discourse (at least, this is my hope). Nonetheless, agreement or disagreement with the truth of the rigidity identified in the joke is besides the point for Bergson, the point is that telling and laughing at these kinds of jokes is harmful because of what the jokes themselves communicate. Specifically, just as telling these jokes can incite the audience to mentally play with or (falsely) entertain their underpinning stereotypes as accurate representations of society, it would seem that laughter can also communicate acceptance of these stereotypes, and thus reinforce these stereotypes as valid stereotypes in society. Thus, ultimately both the telling of and laughing at these jokes could lead to the production of communities for which the harmful alienation of other classes of human beings is socially acceptable—and this is a fact about stereo-phthonic jokes which will prove sufficient to expand Bergson’s theory to the question how one ought to respond to these jokes on a more immediate and “joke-by-joke” basis. Which brings us to the Bergsonian concept of moral sensibility.

III. Moral Sensibility

I argue that it is morally wrong to be insensible to the potential harms that stereo-phthonic jokes might cause. Moral sensibility was defined previously as one’s ability to sense whether or not one should become emotionally invested in the subject matter of a joke. Indeed, as “…laughter has no greater foe than emotion,” one should make decisions based on their sensibility whether it is morally appropriate to become emotionally disinterested in the stereo-phthonic joke given the potential harm it can cause.[xxxiii] As Bergson notes, insensibility is an essential condition in the spectator which causes us to laugh,[xxxiv] whereas that which interests our sensibility or appeals to our feeling will not produce this kind of reaction.[xxxv] Consequently, it is up to us whether or not we should entertain the playfulness and relaxation first induced in us through the joke form, or to become emotionally invested so as to analyse the joke in an interested manner that takes into account its potentially harmful nature. All of which should also apply to the teller of the joke whom, without the correct use of their sensibility, is also prone to disregarding the harm it may cause through its expression.

One’s moral sensibility will thus be partially determined by the kinds of jokes we laugh at, the jokes we tell, and the communities we are in. Indeed, sensibility and insensibility will be predicated to some degree on what the community accepts as conventional attitudes. For instance, a racist community will most likely not condemn laughing at or telling the racist joke above as they find that one need not be emotionally invested in the potential harm the joke could cause to black people. And if they do condemn it, it will be because those racist attitudes have been inscribed into life and society to the extent that the comic presentation of them no longer seems mechanical in comparison. That is, the stereotypes will be so ingrained that expression of these attitudes will no longer appear as rigidities to be gawked at, but as socially acceptable beliefs, a part of utilitarian life.  However, I argue that most moral communities will view stereo-phthonic jokes as problematic precisely because they deal in false rigidities. Black people are not inherently violent or prone to committing crimes, transgender people are not just indecisive victims of radical left-wing propaganda, and attempts to suggest otherwise are harmful because they attempt to make falsehood into something acceptable. As such, one should be reprimanded for laughing at or telling such jokes primarily because in doing so, one has indulged themselves too much in the seeming playfulness of the joke, rather than engaging their sensibility at the appropriate moment.[xxxvi]

To clarify, not all stereo-phthonic jokes will be easily typified as one worthy of condemnation, and stereo-phthonic jokes are most likely to be seen as acceptable (at least, morally so) when they are told by someone who belongs to the same class of people being targeted by the joke. Take this homophobic joke as an example:

There’s a new drug for lesbians on the market to cure depression, it’s called trycoxagain.[xxxvii]

To laugh at this joke would indicate one’s moral insensibility not only towards a false rigidity (that all lesbians secretly desire to have sex with men), but also towards the harm the joke could cause. However, one can conceive that, were such a joke to be told by a lesbian, things become more complicated, precisely because it is unclear whether one should engage their sensibility or not. That is, it is difficult to ascertain in this situation whether laughing at the joke causes harm or not, because we are presented with a representative of the targeted class actually telling the joke in question. As such, Bergson’s theory⁠—in which laughter is reliant on a feeling of legitimised insensibility⁠—can indeed account for why we might be confused about whether to laugh here, but it cannot identify what we should do. On the one hand, it seems that the joke should be condemned for attempting to make these stereotypes socially acceptable; on the other, the fact that the supposed victim of the joke is telling it applies a self-deprecatory or ironic quality that throws into doubt whether this is the case. And what of the individual telling the joke? Are they somehow betraying other lesbians by finding something comedic in this joke? These ambiguities are a limitation of Bergson’s theory.

Another possible critique of my argument surrounding moral sensibility is that it relies too heavily on Bergson’s assertion that “…laughter has no greater foe than emotion,” that the comic’s “…appeal is to intelligence”⁠—and moreover, that this claim is false.[xxxviii] Recall that, according to Bergson, to be emotionally engaged in something is to be interested in the comic object so that everything related to it assumes a greater importance in one’s life, and the object itself takes on a utilitarian hue. As such, as a necessary precondition for laughing at a given joke, one must adopt a disinterested and intellectualised stance towards it. However, this separation of humour and emotion does not actually align very well with recent research in the cognitive sciences, which indicates that the separation of the intellect and the emotions is an illegitimate dichotomy.[xxxix] It is also problematic for a second reason, in that Bergson, according to de Sousa, “…confuses two very different contrasts: between emotional engagement and cold detachment on the one hand, and between identification and alienation on the other.”[xl] By adopting this second dichotomy, it could be argued that I have neglected to note those instances in which people can be passionately alienated (such as the victims of the KKK) or identified with dispassionately (such as when a member of society is identified with sympathetically but abstractly, as a “mere statistic,” say), and if this is true it challenges the completeness of my argument.

Still, although I concede that it is problematic to separate reason from emotion considering recent cognitive science research and that Bergson cannot account for dispassionate identification, it would seem that his theory can account for passionate alienation. As alluded to earlier, for Bergson, passionate alienation of a societal group can only occur once one’s community has so thoroughly absorbed the stereotypes in jokes that they no longer view them as falsehoods worth entertaining, but as strictly true. As such, a Bergsonian interpretation of passionate alienation would be that it can occur, though only in a dichotomy of cases: either in the situation that a class of people has not already been accepted into society; or, as the culmination of a process in which the harm caused by stereo-phthonic jokes is treated dispassionately over a continuous and extended period of time. Therefore, passionate alienation occurs only through an initial phase of dispassion or if a certain class of people was not accepted into society in the first place.

IV. Conclusion

Bergson’s theory of humour has more to offer the ethics of humour than is frequently suggested. In particular, Bergson’s intriguing suggestion that comedy and, thus, the joke form, is a kind of art suggests that it is not exempt from moral condemnation. This is because stereo-phthonic jokes have the potential to transform harmful stereotypes into socially acceptable generalities, causing harm in the form of alienation to the classes of people they target. As such, it is wrong to laugh at these kinds of jokes because it indicates a lack of moral sensibility, an inattentiveness to their potentially harmful effects. Although this ultimately leads to a problematic separation of reason and emotion, Bergson’s theory at least warns us not to be insensible to the undertones of jokes, nor to their contribution to socially acceptable behaviours. On this view, jokes are not ‘“just jokes” as some comedians would have us believe but play an interesting role within society as critiques of the current organisation of utilitarian life.

Fraser is a student of philosophy who has an interest in aesthetics, politics, ontology and environmental philosophy.


[i] Christie Davies, The Right to Joke (London: Social Affairs Unit, 2004).

[ii] Ronald de Sousa, “When is it Wrong to Laugh?” The Rationality of Emotion (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987), 276, 295.

[iii] de Sousa, “When is it Wrong to Laugh?” 291.

[iv] Ide Sousa, “When is it Wrong to Laugh?” 277.

[v] Stereo-phthonic jokes will be the specific subject of this essay, as I do not wish to suggest that all phthonic jokes are problematic. Phthonic jokes could, after all, be directed at something as benign as the minor character flaw of a friend based on de Sousa’s definition.

[vi] Henri Bergson, Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic (Project Gutenberg, 2009), 57.

[vii] Bergson, Laughter, 54.

[viii] Graham Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics (Chicago: Open Court, 2005), 130.

[ix] Bergson, Laughter, 9.

[x] Bergson, Laughter, 6.

[xi] Bergson, Laughter, 16.

[xii] Bergson, Laughter, 9-10.

[xiii] Bergson, Laughter, 5.

[xiv] Bergson, Laughter, 4.

[xv] Bergson, Laughter, 4.

[xvi] Bergson, Laughter, 4.

[xvii] Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics, 130-131.

[xviii] Russell Ford, “Life’s Joke: Bergson, Comedy, and the Meaning of Laughter,” in All Too Human: Laughter, Humour, and Comedy in Nineteenth-Century Philosophy, ed. Lydia L. Moland (Springer, 2018), 175-193, 183-184.

[xix] Norm Macdonald, “Steampunk – Norm Macdonald Live,” Youtube video, 22 October 2021,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhowFxQLxyM.

[xx] Bergson, Laughter, 57

[xxi] Bergson, Laughter, 55.

[xxii] Bergson, Laughter, 55.

[xxiii] Bergson, Laughter, 55.

[xxiv] Bergson, Laughter, 68.

[xxv] Norm Macdonald, “Norm Macdonald on the Harlem Shake,” Youtube video, 20 June 2022, https://www.youtube.com/shorts/OhKxJDxUmjg.

[xxvi] Bergson, Laughter, 68.

[xxvii] Bergson, Laughter, 71.

[xxviii] Ford, “Life’s Joke,” 175-193, 183.

[xxix] Bergson, Laughter, 71.

[xxx] See Avner Ziv, “The Social Function of Humour in Interpersonal Relationships,” Society 47, no. 1 (2009): 11-18.

[xxxi] Mónica Romero-Sánchez, et al, “Sexist Humour and Rape Proclivity: The Moderating Role of Joke Teller Gender and Severity of Sexual Assault,” Violence Against Women 23, no. 8 (2017): 951-972.

[xxxii] Donald A Saucier, et al, “What do you call a Black guy who flies a plane?”: The effects and understanding of disparagement and confrontational racial humor,” Humor 31, no. 1 (2018): 105-128.

[xxxiii] Bergson, Laughter, 4.

[xxxiv] Bergson, Laughter, 53.

[xxxv] Bergson, Laughter, 54.

[xxxvi] Martin Shuster, “Humour as an Optics: Bergson and the Ethics of Humour,” Hypatia 28, no. 3 (2013): 625.

[xxxvii] Laugh Factory, “Joke Bank – Sexist Jokes,” http://www.laughfactory.com/jokes/sexist-jokes/2.

[xxxviii] Bergson, Laughter, 4-5.

[xxxix] For example, Antonio Damasio has argued that the emotions are an essential component of practical reasoning since they “mark” specific rational options as dangerous or unpleasant, providing a basis of choice before reflective reasoning begins. Antonio Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (New York: Grossett/Putnam, 1994). 

[xl] Sousa, “When is it Wrong to Laugh?” 275.


Bergson, Henri. Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic.Project Gutenberg, 2009.

Damasio, Antonio. Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain.New York: Grossett/Putnam, 1994.

Davies, Christie. The Right to Joke.London: Social Affairs Unit, 2004.

Ford, Russell. “Life’s Joke: Bergson, Comedy, and the Meaning of Laughter.” In All Too Human: Laughter, Humour, and Comedy in Nineteenth-Century Philosophy, edited by Lydia L. Moland, 175-193. Springer: 2018.

Harman, Graham. Guerrilla Metaphysics.Chicago: Open Court, 2005.

Laugh Factory. “Joke Bank – Sexist Jokes.” http://www.laughfactory.com/jokes/sexist-jokes/2.

Macdonald, Norm. “Steampunk – Norm Macdonald Live.” Youtube video, 22 October, 2021,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhowFxQLxyM.

Macdonald, Norm. “Norm Macdonald on the Harlem Shake.” Youtube video, 20 June, 2022,  https://www.youtube.com/shorts/OhKxJDxUmjg.

Romero-Sánchez, Mónica, Hugo Carretero-Dios, Jesús L Megías, Miguel Moya, and Thomas E Ford. “Sexist Humour and Rape Proclivity: The Moderating Role of Joke Teller Gender and Severity of Sexual Assault.” Violence Against Women 23, no. 8 (2017): 951-972.

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Featured photo by Bogomil Mihaylov on Unsplash


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