People & Ideas

Dec 14, 2012

Royal phone prank: the joke’s on who?

Jokes are anything but simple, says comedy writer Evan Williams. The best thing to do is work out who or what exactly we are supposed to be laughing at?

A lot of people think jokes are simple. Mostly, because they result in two types of easily identifiable reactions: laughter, or silence. This should mean that there are two types of jokes: bad jokes and good jokes — and obviously, jokes that seem to have played a role in a woman’s suicide, must be terrible jokes.

But, after a year writing for a daily news satire program, I’ve found that jokes are anything but simple. The defensibility of a joke is a particularly complicated matter and one of the most heated topics of discussion in the writers’ room. My preferred method to gauge the defensibility of a joke is to try and understand who the victim of the joke is — in other words, when the audience laughs, who or what exactly are they laughing at?

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One thought on “Royal phone prank: the joke’s on who?

  1. Steve777

    I think that there might be another criterion – the power or powerlessness of the victim. The rich, powerful and influential are fair game when they act in a ridiculous or venal manner. To play a prank on someone who is powerless amounts to bullying. It is possible that the intended victim here was royalty. However, the victim was the unfortunate nurse who, even if she suspected a prank, felt compelled to go along. People whose job involves taking calls from the public generally have to be polite and cooperative, no matter how asinine or offensive the caller. This prank fails on the powerful / powerless test.

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