Ethics in Comedy

Essays on Crossing the Line


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About the Book

All humans laugh. However, there is little agreement about what is appropriate to laugh at. While laughter can unite people by showing how they share values and perspectives, it also has the power to separate and divide. Humor that “crosses the line” can make people feel excluded and humiliated. This collection of new essays addresses possible ways that moral and ethical lines can be drawn around humor and laughter. What would a Kantian approach to humor look like? Do games create a safe space for profanity and offense? Contributors to this volume work to establish and explain guidelines for thinking about the moral questions that arise when humor and laughter intersect with medicine, gender, race, and politics. Drawing from the work of stand-up comedians, television shows, and ethicists, this volume asserts that we are never just joking.

About the Author(s)

Steven A. Benko is a professor of religious and ethical studies at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Bibliographic Details

Edited by Steven A. Benko

Series Editor James M. Okapal

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 260
Bibliographic Info: 4 photos, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2020
pISBN: 978-1-4766-7641-8
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4097-6
Imprint: McFarland
Series: Ethics and Culture

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii
Introduction (Steven A. Benko) 1

Part One: Laughter, Ethicists and Ethics Toward an Objective Ethic of Humor (Jennifer Marra) 17
Closing the Comic Loophole: Reframing the Aesthetics and Ethics of Comedy (Shouta Brown) 28
What Is Kant’s Theory of Humor? (Robert R. Clewis) 40
The Justice of the Funny (Liz Sills) 57
Otherwise Than Laughter: Levinas and an Ethics of Laughter (Steven A. Benko) 71

Part Two: Laughter, Gender and Race Minority Report: Joking About the Other (Rebecca Krefting) 87
That’s Way Too Aggressive a Word: Aziz Ansari, Comedy of Incongruity and Affectively Charged Feminism (Steven A. Benko and Eleanor Jones) 99
The Boondocks and the Ethics of Black Comic Rage (Christophe D. Ringer ) 113
Relief and Revelation: The Ethics of Comedy in the #MeToo Era Through Dave Chappelle’s The Bird Revelation (Olivia Moorer) 126

Part Three: Laughter and Late Night Blowing Off Steam: Freud, Smut and Samantha Bee’s Political ­Comedy (Erica A. Holberg) 141
The Vices and Virtues of David Letterman (Cindy Muenchrath Spady) 154
The Complex Ethics of Jimmy Kimmel as Confidence Man and Scientific Communicator (Shelly A. Galliah) 167

Part Four: Laughter and Ridicule Ethical Features of Derogatory Humor in Medical Settings (Ralph H. Didlake and Caroline E. Compretta) 185
Laughter, Bodily Pain and Ethics in YouTube Fail Videos (Jonathan Peter Wright) 197
Laughing with “Horrible” People: Reaffirming Ethical Boundaries Through Laughter (Nicole Graham) 210
The Caring Practical Joke (David K. McGraw) 223
“Laughter is not our medicine”: Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette and the Balm of Comedy (Grant Moss) 232

About the Contributors 245
Index 249

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