8.4.3 Taking A Joke Seriously Adds To Its Import

It was noted earlier that RB could respond to the challenge by simply indicating the majority response of amusement. Instead he chooses to respond to BM’s serious challenge with a serious explanation in 67 (‘Because she was mean’) which takes him further away from the terrain of joking into the serious realm, and at the same time acts as an acceptance of responsibility for the utterance. His pursuit of a confirmation of the main proposition of his explanation (that Thatcher was ‘mean’), which he seems to view as a justification for his joke, actually takes him ever more into the serious realm and away from the utterance of 53 as a joke. And as it is the others who have defined this serious terrain - BM’s 59 (‘sexist’), EM’s complaining vocalisation in 68, and JK’s 69 (‘shame’) – RB finds himself on foreign soil. On such ground RB is outnumbered and even though he seems to take some succour from JK’s acknowledgement of Thatcher’s nickname (83), he is alone in this and stands seriously disempowered. Thus when he returns to the joking mode with another barbed comment about Madeleine Albright (90) he is quite simply ignored, as if he has been de-voiced. This latter ‘joke’ is therefore not taken seriously by anyone and, consequently, has little or no import.

This point does not end there, however, as it raises a significant aspect of this whole exchange, that between seriousness vs. humour. We have seen that up until at least 53 there is a collaborative floor with a cooperative determination of meanings. We have also seen that up to this point the licence to joke and responsibility are not clearly defined. It has also been noted that ‘Politically Incorrect’ occupies an ambivalent position – its chat show element demanding entertainment, its discussion show element demanding serious discourse. What this creates, then, is an atmosphere that is neither strictly serious nor strictly humorous, but which is, rather, indeterminate. For example, note how in quick succession RB’s ironic comment in 27 (‘Page four in America’) is misunderstood by BM, and how BM’s attempted serious point about Hustler and Margaret Thatcher (28>31) is greeted with amusement by the audience and some panellists. In such an ambivalent environment meanings are not neatly polarised into bona fide and non-bona fide as in, for example, Raskin’s semantic theory of humour, but, rather, they shift restlessly back and forth along a pragmatic continuum made up of each participant’s own scripts and the interactions of this conversation, so that RB’s 53 is simultaneously both a joke and an insult, depending where the respondent is on the continuum at the particular moment of the utterance. Immediately after 53 RB has sufficient support to remain standing by the utterance as a ’joke’, but, as we have seen, in his attempted explanation he moves along the continuum towards ‘insult’ and this marks a significant shift in power. As Bilmes has it,

the meaning of behaviour is not fixed at the moment of production according to what the actor ‘meant’ by the behaviour or the socially significant features of the behaviour. Rather, the meaning is negotiated by the participants over a course of activity.

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>