Race and comedy: a serious topic
Packed with a variety of jokes, gags and humorous stories, the Festival has been bringing smiles to Leicester for nearly twenty years. It is timely then that recent research conducted by a University of Leicester sociologist shows how racism in humour, a feature that some comedians regularly use as part of their set, is not a laughing matter.
In The Rhetoric of Racist Humour, published by Ashgate, the Department of Health Sciences' Dr Simon Weaver makes the claim that the language of humour and jokes is structured and functions as rhetoric.
He argues that it uses non-literal imagery to convince us to agree with the joke-teller’s message, which may in fact be a serious message about race issues. He believes that in making judgements on whether humour should be criticised, we should analyse what the joke-teller is trying to articulate.
The landmark book highlights the fact that often political correctness wants to, but fails to criticise humour effectively because there is little description of the mechanisms that make comic language work. For example, Ali G uses images from minstrelsy by having a white performer play a black stereotype, but he also offers political satire which makes simplistic judgements on the meaning of the act quite difficult.
The book also follows Dr Weaver’s award-winning study on ‘anti-racism’ in African-Caribbean origin comedians such as Chris Rock and Lenny Henry, published in the journal Sociology.