Communication 459 – Special Topics:  Communication and Humor

Spring 2002- Instructor:  D. Davis


Prerequisites:  Com201 and junior standing, or consent.


Description and Objectives:  We have all laughed with pleasure at some saying or event in our lives and it’s a safe bet that we have all enjoyed at least one funny movie, cartoon, or sit-com.  At the same time, each of us has also probably proclaimed “That’s NOT funny!”  when someone else is laughing; or begged another to “Explain to me what’s so funny about that?”  As subjective as humor might be, we know that it exists for all of us, and we crave for it to sustain us through good and bad time.  But what IS it, really??  How do we capture its essence, harness it, and make it our own?  We will aim to answer these questions by exploring the verbal and nonverbal manifestations of humor and its power in communication settings through readings & viewings, discussions, demonstrations, presentations, and more.


As with other forms of human interaction, contemporary communication scholars have systematically studied the nature of humor and its role in society for several decades.  (Other scholars and philosophers, of course, have been intrigued with this topic since time immemorial.)  Among the many theories proposed in the context of communication or adopted from other disciplines and applied in this field, the majority can be conceptually categorized on the basis of affording pleasure through the intellect, emotion, or physiological release or relief.  Therefore, among the most prominent theories we will study there will be those based on peculiar logic (such as incongruities and oppositional dualisms); those that involve pre-existing and culturally shared stereotypes (including superiority, self-disparagement, and suffering or punishment); and those that depend on cathartic release of suppressed impulses leading to psychosocial or physiological equilibrium. 


Humor takes place in context (even if the context is not external – such as a book of jokes for all occasions now discarded in a dumpster).  We will, therefore, study humor in its various guises in standard communication contexts of interpersonal relationships, small groups and organizations, and social or media settings.


Readings will be available in packet form or placed on reserve and will include works originally published in the Journal of Communication, Communication Theory, Communication Studies, Communication Quarterly, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Journal of Applied Communication Research, and the like, by scholars such as Meyer, King, Perry, Alberts, Bippus, Honeycutt, Brown, Nilsen, Raskin, Attardo, and others. You may view the preliminary reading list here: (Some required readings)


Assessment based on portfolios including the following:  ten weekly contributions of analyzed humor and their brief presentation in class based on random selection (50%); group (25%) and final (25%) presentations of projects based on original research into some aspect of communication and humor to be selected no later than the week of March 11th.


Additional requirements:  This course is planned around students who will be consistently and intellectually present in-class and on-line throughout the semester, and who are willing to confirm their commitment to participate in a contribution-intensive and highly interactive environment.  Humor is subjective.  What may be funny to some may be offensive to others.  We will be conducting this class in a professional and scholarly setting that demands open-mindedness, combined with common sense and full sensitivities to academic protocol.  Although freedom of speech is protected, this right works best when combined with the responsibility of awareness to the environment, potentially requiring self-censorship.  Harassment (“teasing”) as a potential form of humor will be discussed theoretically but will not be tolerated in class or online.  If, for whatever reason, you know that you cannot commit to all of the above requirements, it may be in your best interest to find an alternative course to fulfill your elective requirements.


Seriously, now, can you imagine a life without humor?!