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19 January 2006 PR 06/06

Experts examine the other side of humour

A new book that focuses on the negative side of humour has been published by two university experts.

Beyond a Joke: The Limits of Humour has been edited by Michael Pickering from Loughborough University and Sharon Lockyer from De Montfort University, Leicester. It brings together a range of contributors, who explore the ethics as well as the aesthetics of humour, both in everyday life and media comedy.

As well as covering live stage comedy and everyday humour, the book deals with the broad spectrum of media genres, including sitcoms, the internet, reality TV, talk shows and film comedy.

It includes interviews with comedians Omid Djalili and Shazia Mirza, and discusses many other famous comedians, including Tony Hancock, Dawn French, Ali G, Mrs Merton, Bill Maher, Jim Davidson and Bernard Manning. It also analyses major television series like Sex and the City, Absolutely Fabulous and The Office.

While all the contributors to the book appreciate the value of humour and celebrate its pleasures, they also focus on the uses and abuses of humour, some of which excite considerable social tension and controversy, as for example with the English Conservative MP Ann Winterton’s joke about Chinese cocklepickers, following their tragic deaths by drowning in February 2004.

The book considers the boundaries of humour and where these may be located, moving public debate beyond simple objections to political correctness and focusing on what is harmful as well as beneficial about humour.

Michael Pickering, one of the book’s editors, is a Reader in Culture and Communications at Loughborough University. “Writing seriously about the ethics of humour means you run the risk of being labelled a po-faced academic with a gigantic humour deficiency. While this would be far from the truth, it seems to us a risk worth taking in the interests of engaging critically with forms of humour which belittle and deprecate others, or cause them considerable hurt and offence,” Michael says.

Co-editor Sharon Lockyer, a lecturer in Media Studies at De Montfort University, adds: “Humour is generally celebrated as part of what makes us human. It can help people get on with each other and facilitate good relations between different groups and communities, but humour and comedy can hardly be positive elements of social and cultural life if they involve misrepresentation and stereotyping, or intolerance and hatred.”

Both Michael and Sharon will debate the ethics of humour with comedian Omid Djalili, who is featured in the book, at a free event for the Leicester Comedy Festival from 6-7pm, on Sunday 12 February, at Leicester Haymarket Studio Theatre.

Geoff Rowe, one of the lead organisers of the festival, said: "We're delighted to be hosting The Limits of Humour discussion as part of Leicester Comedy Festival 2006. The festival includes a diverse range of over 230 events and it's important to us that we don't just focus on stand-up. The discussion will help develop an idea of the role of comedy and the ways in which different communities and cultures relate to comedy."


For further information contact:

Notes to editors

  1. Other contributors to the book are: Michael Billig, Deborah Chambers, Frances Gray, Dennis Howitt, John Morreall, Kwame Owusu-Bempah, Jerry Palmer and Ken Willis.

  2. Beyond a Joke: The Limits of Humour (1-4039-3942-X) is published in hardback by Palgrave Macmillan, priced £45.

  3. Loughborough has an established reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry, and unrivalled sporting achievement. Assessments of teaching quality by the Quality Assurance Agency place it in the top flight of UK universities; the National Student Survey ranked Loughborough equal first among full-time students; and industry highlights the University in its top five for graduate recruitment. Around 40% of Loughborough’s income is for research, and 60% for teaching. The University has been awarded five Queen's Anniversary Prizes: for its collaboration with aerospace and automotive companies such as BAE Systems, Ford and Rolls Royce; for its work in developing countries; for pioneering research in optical engineering; for its world-leading role in sports research, education and development; and for its outstanding work in evaluating and helping to develop social policy-related programmes.

    In 2006 Loughborough celebrates the 40th anniversary of its University Charter, awarded on 19 April 1966 in recognition of the excellence achieved by Loughborough College of Advanced Technology and its predecessor Colleges. Loughborough University of Technology was renamed Loughborough University in 1996.

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