Comedy and Distinction : The Cultural Currency of a ‘Good’ Sense of Humour book cover
1st Edition

Comedy and Distinction
The Cultural Currency of a ‘Good’ Sense of Humour

ISBN 9780415855037
Published April 30, 2014 by Routledge
240 Pages 11 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Comedy is currently enjoying unprecedented growth within the British culture industries. Defying the recent economic downturn, it has exploded into a booming billion-pound industry both on TV and on the live circuit. Despite this, academia has either ignored comedy or focused solely on analysing comedians or comic texts. This scholarship tends to assume that through analysing an artist’s intentions or techniques, we can somehow understand what is and what isn’t funny. But this poses a fundamental question – funny to whom? How can we definitively discern how audiences react to comedy?

Comedy and Distinction shifts the focus to provide the first ever empirical examination of British comedy taste. Drawing on a large-scale survey and in-depth interviews carried out at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the book explores what types of comedy people like (and dislike), what their preferences reveal about their sense of humour, how comedy taste lubricates everyday interaction, and how issues of social class, gender, ethnicity and geographical location interact with patterns of comic taste. Friedman asks:

  • Are some types of comedy valued higher than others in British society?
  • Does more ‘legitimate’ comedy taste act as a tangible resource in social life – a form of cultural capital?
  • What role does humour play in policing class boundaries in contemporary Britain?

This book will be of interest to students and scholars of sociology, social class, social theory, cultural studies and comedy studies.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Funny to Whom?  Part I: Positioning the Research  2. From Music Hall to the Alternative Boom: The Changing Field of British Comedy  3. Cultural Capital: From Resources to Realisation  Part II: The Cultural Currency of a ‘Good’ Sense of Humour  4. Liking the ‘Right’ Comedy  5. Working for your Laughter: Comedy Styles and Embodied Cultural Capital  6. Cultural Omnivores or Culturally Homeless? Exploring the Comedy Tastes of the Socially Mobile  Part III: Comic Cultural Capital: Strength and Legitimacy  7. Comedy Snobs and Symbolic Boundaries  8. The Tastemakers: Comedy Critics and the Legitimation of Cultural Capital  9. The Hidden Tastemakers: Comedy Scouts as Cultural Brokers  10. Conclusion

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Sam Friedman, from September 2014, is Assistant Professor in Sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He has published widely on comedy, social mobility and social class. He is also the publisher of Fest magazine, the largest magazine covering the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.


"Certainly his book is a thoughtful and thought-provoking study which, though relating to popular culture, is addressed to an academic audience and I doubt that those looking for an ‘easy option’ will find this an ‘easy read’… [the book] produces a ‘highly recommended’ rosette, particularly for students of sociology and cultural studies."— Sep Meyer, ASPEN

"Overall, Comedy and distinction is a strong, well-articulated piece of research that provides important elements for contemporary debates on cultural consumption. It should be read by sociologists of culture at large, and not only by specialists of humour. Friedman highlights the importance of ‘embodied cultural capital’: cultural capital is not only made of educational degrees, but is inscribed in behaviours and dispositions, in abilities to enjoy various kinds of cultural objects."— Samuel Coavoux, Lectures