Winning Over the Audience: Trust and Humor in Stand‐Up Comedy

Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 78 (4):491-500 (2020)
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ABSTRACT This article advances a novel way of understanding humor and stand-up comedy. I propose that the relationship between the comedian and her audience is understood by way of trust, where the comedian requires the trust of her audience for her humor to succeed. The comedian may hold the trust of the audience in two domains. She may be trusted as to the form of the humor, such as whether she is joking. She may also be trusted as to the content of the joke. This approach has two distinct virtues. The first is that it makes sense of partial successes. These are cases where the humor neither completely succeeds nor fails because the audience does not fully trust the comedian. The second is that it explains intuitions about ethically dubious humor and why certain classes of humor, especially those dealing in racialized and gendered identities, are more readily accepted from humorists of those identities.



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