Abstract

Some joke performances are meant to elicit differential responses-laughter from some, and unlaughter from salient others-and so serve as powerful methods for heightening group boundaries. This article illustrates this thesis by analyzing audience responses to practical jokes and to the Muhammad cartoons that aroused worldwide controversy in 2006. To further make this case, I will delineate a theory of the audience for humor. Such a theory has heretofore been largely missing from both folklore and humor scholarship; instead, the lion’s share of scholarly attention has gone to the performers, with the audience’s role taken for granted. In boundary-heightening humor, the audience response is the subject of special attention, and it is interpreted in terms of contemporary notions about the importance of having a sense of humor and especially of being able to laugh at oneself.

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