Beyond a Joke pp 126-145 | Cite as

Merry Hell: Humour Competence and Social Incompetence

  • Ken Willis


Most of us like to think we have a good sense of humour, so much so, in fact, that in personal advertisements it is the most common characteristic people use to advertise themselves and request others to have. Attempts to understand such a central aspect of our self-identity date from at least Plato1 (c.350 BCE) and more recently humour has increasingly become the subject of academic research.2 This has given rise to attempts to model humour along various lines, a development which has met with varying success. Here I would like to examine some of the more interesting models and make a contribution to the ongoing discussion. Let me make my own perspectives clear from the outset. Too often commentators and researchers feel that because having a sense of humour would seem to be a cultural universal, they are therefore obliged to make universal claims about their ideas and findings. While there may well be certain common denominators involved in the production and reception of humour (e.g., it does always seem to include an element of incongruity), I am wary of theories and models with sweeping claims of universality.


Comic Figure Dominant Interpretation Personal Advertisement Humour Appreciation Extended Piece 
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© Ken Willis 2005

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  • Ken Willis

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