A Sense of Humor

“Humor is… a superior revolt of the mind”

André Breton

 Why do we laugh, and can a sense of humor be powerful? Has humor changed over time? How has satire shaped the politics of the contemporary West? Are there limits to what we should make jokes about? Can humor be ethical? What are the differences between a conservative and a progressive joke? And what might dark humor reveal about our inner psyche?

This course will take a broad theoretical and historical approach to humor, exploring the mechanics of comedy through a range of media. Alongside the work of influential philosophers, political theorists, and psychoanalysts, we will hear from stand-up comedians and legendary clowns. We will also watch some of the most celebrated comic movies of the past century, including the work of Charlie Chaplin, Peter Sellers, and Monty Python. We will analyze YouTube videos of political sketches, listen to radio comedy routines, and trawl through internet memes. While attempting to comprehend the power and influence of humor in contemporary Western discourse, we will pay close attention to the political effects of joking. By the end of the course we will have a better sense of how humor can open minds and change hearts, and a sense of how it might, still, alter the course of history.

Peter Jones:

Peter Jones is a cultural historian, specializing in the religious, political, and intellectual life of medieval Europe (c.500–1500). After completing a BA and MA at the University of Bristol, Peter received his PhD in History from New York University in 2014. From 2014–16 he was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Jackman Humanities Institute, University of Toronto, and from 2016–17 he worked as a visiting scholar at the Pembroke Center, Brown University. He has also been a Frances A. Yates Long Term Fellow at the Warburg Institute in London, and a teaching fellow at University College London. He has been a professor at SAS since 2017.