Here are my replies and comments on all your submitted comments on
(Unintended) Dick Joke Commentary.
First, I did receive a lot of great (unsolicited) analyses of "how my
dick taste" and "dick residue" jokes and about the bad quality of a
girlfriend being her ex, and the whole rest of Jamel's routine AFTER
0:16. These responses were sophisticated and excellent analyses about
the sexual politics, the different insecurities of men vs women, etc.
Multiple students wrote that an audience of (straight) men makes jokes
against women seem more funny (to them); whereas women might not find
them equally funny. Indeed, two people noticed that the camera
captured an uncomfortable, certainly unamused, woman with a staring
man with her, him apparently thinking about the V attributed in the
joke, making it true and real by the example shown reiterating the
point of the joke. Brilliant. Also someone reported (her?) boyfriend
watching the videos with her and he laughed harder (at the dick
jokes?) than (she?) did. That is real data, the most valuable thing
Someone pointed out that Jamel is making fun of people who make fun of
women, rather than himself making fun of women (This could create a
distance that enables an N perspective. If "they" are bad then "we"
can be good, and that is N+V in the form of moral superiority.)
Someone else made a difference between a 'positive subjective moral
violation' (like feminism) vs a 'negative subjective moral violation'
(like female serial killers). I think they missed the point that
violations are negative and non-violations are neutral or positive.
So a positive violation is a contradiction in terms.
Mostly people were on point, they got the idea what N and V mean, and
they could say why some aspects of the situation made it seem N and V to
at least some people.
(Intended) "I do the jokes now" joke commentary.
Now, let's discuss the actual intended joke, though, which was Jamel
saying "I do the jokes now", in the 0:00 to 0:16 section of the
Bad answers, and why
I found 10 ways you could have done better. See which applies to you.
It'll suggest how to do better, or if you already did perfect it'll
teach it to others
by understanding different
ways of tripping up. Because I'd like you to be able to both use this
and teach it too!
(1) Several found it not funny and that was all they could say.
I wanted you to dig a little deeper. Was there no V, or no N, which
blocked you? Usually not getting the point means not seeing a V
perspective. So try to search for something wrong, difficult,
painful, embarrassing, etc., in the situation.
Mark Twain supposedly said, "Anyone who can only think of one way to
spell a word obviously lacks imagination.“
I myself think it's funny to say, "A man with no complaints has a lack
So in this homework item, if you're drawing a blank, try some things.
Is it very hard to see things that might be wrong in the situation?
Try to empathize with the speaker, could he be having a hard time at
that moment? or pretending to? Why? Or, empathize with the
audience, or different kinds of people in the audience like the other
comedians, the men and the women, etc.: Could they have hostile or
judgemental feelings? Be hurt? Feel offended? Or, with the
different people in the situation being described, do they have a loss
of face or comportment? Is their status being challenged? Would they
be happy to hear this said about them? These kinds of general
questions can get to the root of why someone might find something
funny. They are ways to find possible V interpretations. Generally
(2) Then there were some folks who said, "not funny for me but I could
see how and why others might find it funny." This goes deeper than
saying Not Funny and stopping, but not far enough. Same reasons as
above, please re-read them.
It is imaginable that N or V isn't there, but if one isn't there AND
it's funny then the whole N+V Theory is actually wrong and it's time
to publish a counterexample. So meanwhile, be patient and consider,
What might be some V's imaginable in a comedian saying that? Put
yourself in the place of everyone in the situation and ask how you
might feel, what toes have been stepped on, or clumsiness, or failure
or fear. V is a big world, you could try a lot of things. At least
you could describe some things that you tried but that don't work.
(3) Someone who couldn't identify N+V said 'It's funny because it's a
comedian saying "I do the jokes now".' While that's true, I'd say
that doesn't go deep enough, you haven't made the issues in there
explicit. Try to break it down further. For example, you might say,
a comedian who ought to know what he is doing, acting like he has to
break it down to first grade level, like he doesn't know what he is
doing: this is a violation of how professional comedians ought to be,
competent instead of like first-graders, so that's V. Give us some
more traction on the moral expectations that mean comedians shouldn't
say that. Why shouldn't they?
- (4) Some people who didn't get it proposed things that I don't
think quite explain the humor, for example, perhaps V is that he isn't
doing original jokes. I'll make the argument myself, as a linguist.
The word "the" in "I do the jokes" is what linguists call a "definite
determiner", and it means there is shared knowledge of what is being
referred to. If I say "a dog" it means you don't know which dog yet,
but if I say "the dog" it means you already know which dog I'm talking
about. So "the jokes" could refer to a determinate (mutually
known) phase of the routine, namely the jokes part (we all know I'm
going to do a jokes phase in my routine, but only I know my jokes) or
it could refer to a determinate set of mutually known jokes (we all
know the jokes I'm going to do, I know them and you know them too),
which implies they might be not his own jokes. I think that's a
subtle interpretation, whoever you are, and maybe Jamel was indeed
doing Kevin Hart's jokes in front of Kevin Hart -- if he were, then
that would indeed be a violation of the mores of the society of
comedians against stealing others' jokes. Good idea. To strengthen
the idea, you would have to ask someone who laughed at it to see if
it's true for them.
- (5) Some folks seemed to think that someone else thinking
something is funny makes it funny. Like, by the comedic authority of
Kevin Hart, who stated it was "pretty damn funny", so (now) "I
think that idea is funny". You see the issue of subjectivity? It's
always subjective. So you can't actually say something "is" or
"isn't" funny, because what "is" and "isn't" are facts in the
circumstances, not in people's heads, unlike the subjective and
optional responses to the circumstances. Speaking objectively,
something is only funny from someone's particular perspective, it's
not that it "is" funny objectively -- from someone else's, it might
NOT be. Do you see my point? There's only a right answer for each
person, and it might be different for each person, not for all
(6) Another person mentioned it was funny because of the delight and
satisfaction of the audience. But isn't that the wrong way around?
Saying it's delightful because of the humor perception, isn't that a
circular argument? You can't say it was funny because it was funny
(well you could but it means you can't explain it to anyone that
disagrees) so also you can't say it was N because everyone liked it.
Which way does the logic proceed? From N to humor to liking it! It
was N because everyone sympathized (N) with his discomfort (V), and
their feelings of empathy made it N. Or, it was N because of the
immediately preceding confidence he showed, that confidence is N. And
THAT (combined with a V perception) made it funny, and THAT made
people like it. So people liking it and experiencing delight and
satisfaction doesn't explain the humor, those are the OUTCOMES. I
want you to reason from N and V to humor, in that direction, to
explain why something is funny.
(7) Someone said it wasn't funny for them and their theory was that
maybe it was offensive. I think that's a good case of, if you don't
laugh, then you might not have a good analysis. It's a step in the
right direction, because offending the audience would indeed be a case
of V but what exactly would someone take offense at there? Give us
(8) Someone asked, 'When something isn't deemed "funny" by someone, is
it the audience that isn't distinguishing the N+V or the comedian
hasn't presented N+V? If I remember correctly, the N is NOT
subjective, so is it the V that changes among the audience? And the
absence of that is what makes it not funny to a person?'
No, N+V says, BOTH N and V are subjective. So if the comedian doesn't
persuade YOU that it's N and that it's V, both at once, then the
comedian won't get you to find it funny. On the other hand, if the
comedian persuades someone else that it's N and V and funny (as N+V
predicts for sincere laughing) even though you didn't find it to be
funny, you can infer that the other, laughing, audience members did see
those elements and that the comedian presented those elements
successfully to them, though not successfully to you.
Isn't it strange that you can hear the same thing and hear something
completely different? Strange but true, when it might or might not be
(9) Someone wrote 'This joke would fall best under the "V" category.'
So that's a definite error, because the point of N+V is that
everything is in BOTH the N category AND the V category, and if it's
just V then it's not funny, yet, unless it ALSO has an N
interpretation. It's not N OR V, it's N AND V.
(10) Someone said it transitioned from lively (N) to serious (aware of
V), and that Jamel was telling Kevin that Jamel not Kevin was going to
do the jokes now (V, being pushy, or abruptly taking over the floor
from someone else). Then this person, who had identified N and V
elements in the situation, wrote "Not entirely sure how N+V comes in
here." You seemed to have got it right, already. Just label the N
and V parts which you already laid out, then you've got a good answer.
Good answers, and why
Here were some good answers collected together (many came from multiple sources).
Jamel saying "I do the jokes now" is variously:
- Stating the obvious, implying inexperience as a comedian, non-professionalism.
- Announcing a beginning, which is normally not done.
- Discomfort. Awkwardness. Stage fright.
- Forgetting one's material or one's place in the routine.
- (Sudden) lack of enthusiasm
- Some unknown V visible especially for comedians.
- Being greeted by the performer.
- Confidence and enthusiasm by the performer.
- He is happy to be there.
- Literally transitioning to the good bit where jokes are told.
- Relief because the show does go on.
- He does do the jokes.
- Some unknown N visible especially for comedians.
All these answers are good, if they work for someone that laughed. If
you "got it" (found it funny), and your reasons were in here, you got a
correct answer. Is there only one correct answer? No.
My own analysis of the audience member, Kevin Hart, professional
comedian, who said "That's pretty damn funny" in the video -- and
perhaps found it funnier than anyone else in the audience -- is that
Kevin could empathize with Jamel's portrayal of comedic death (V) and
paralysing stage fright(V). A successful (N) comedian "kills" (N),
while a failing (V) comedian "dies" (V) as they are booed off the
stage (V). In a few seconds Jamel portrayed a blocked (V),
self-unblocking (N), stumbling (V) comic staring comedic death in the
face (V); a death that is comprised of failure to do their job (V),
which happens while they are valiantly still trying (N), within their
incapacity (V), to do their job (N). It's full of paralysing (V)
stage fright (V), somewhere from terror to discomfort or nerves (V),
that the comic has to go through, standing up at the mic; Jamel was
representing that terror (V) by performing a slight and self-conscious
violation (V) of how you're supposed to go about doing a comedy
routine (V), really a simplification to the barest bones, an
abbreviated representation of the whole routine (N). An actor that
can only recite the title of a scene is a failing actor, a comic that
can only do that is a failing comic, right? (V) But Jamel is playing
that as a role, isn't not actually him (N), as indeed he shortly pops
out of it and proceeds (N). Also it's [not [a terrible fail](V) ](N)
yet; he hasn't totally lost his audience and getting booed off yet,
(thus relatively N), he's merely making a neutral and descriptive
statement of the place in the program (N).
Okay that's my take, but I've been doing this for a while. Please use
these examples to refine your own skills at finding the inner
emotional essences in every kind of situation. I think it will make
you more empathetic, wiser, diplomatically skillful, in a way detached
and therefore unattackable, and even perhaps a little funnier, though
mostly people who do humor research are not the least bit funny.
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