8.4.1 Negotiating Prior Permission To Joke

Emerson recognises the ambiguity involved in joking and suggests that negotiations are necessary in each particular exchange to establish how much joking license may be taken and also to create a system of responsibility for any breaches of decorum (1969:170). In PI we can see that though such negotiations are not carried out explicitly or formally, they are undertaken ‘by ear’ as it were, which is the usual way in informal conversation. From the start (lines 2,3,4) we see humorous comments are made and appreciated as people feel their way in a collaborative situation. The first brake on such comments comes in BM’s 28 (‘No:: come on’) when he either does not understand that RB’s 27 is a humorous remark or he wishes to override it to make a serious point. However, this does not stop the joking as the audience in 32, EM in 34, and LL in 35 all show appreciation of the humorous incongruity of BM’s pairing of Hustler and Margaret Thatcher. Thus, the extent of the licence and responsibility are not clearly defined or individually attributable.

Further, it must not be forgotten that this is a performance space within which two comedians are present as well as other panellists who are expected to entertain. We saw in Sections 2 and 3 that one of the major functions of a performance space is to give a certain leeway to utterances, and also how the comic figure has a licence to be foolish and to transgress. For example, comic figures such as Benny Hill and Eric Morecambe, both when appearing in public again on the steps of hospitals after having had serious heart attacks could not refrain from playing the fool – ‘Tarlton is Tarlton’ (Hill 2000, Morecambe 2000). Similarly, Tommy Cooper in his private life, upon entering the club bar after a round of golf, asked for a drink. The barman responded to this simple request with laughter, much to the annoyance of Cooper (Cooper 2000). Bob Monkhouse remarks that whenever he has been introduced to someone in his private life and has announced his profession, he has invariably been asked to tell a joke i.e. perform (2002). These examples show that even in non-humorous situations both performers and audiences can behave as if there actually was a humorous performance due to certain expectations that come with certain people. In the extract being analysed, the contextual features are even stronger (everyone is ‘semiotically aroused’) and so jokes abound: jokes about sexuality, gender inversion, pornographic publications, and Margaret Thatcher all stake out the permissible ground and are appreciatively received. These factors weaken the notion of responsibility somewhat, particularly when the important role of the audience (and their crucial but unpredictable responses) is added to the equation.

8 Humour in Context: The Thatcher Joke>

8.4 Negotiating The Serious Import of Humour>

8.4.1 Negotiating Prior Permission To Joke

8.4.2 The Interactive Establishment Of Meaning>

8.4.3 Taking A Joke Seriously Adds To Its Import>

8.4.4 Three Possible Positions A Joker Can Adopt When Challenged>