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

Comedy and Distinction

The Cultural Currency of a ‘Good’ Sense of Humour, 1st Edition

By Sam Friedman


228 pages | 11 B/W Illus.

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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.


"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

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

About the Author

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.

About the Series


Culture, Economy and the Social

This series establishes the importance of innovative contemporary, comparative and historical work on the relations between social, cultural and economic change. It publishes empirically-based research that is theoretically informed, that critically examines the ways in which social, cultural and economic change is framed and made visible, and that is attentive to perspectives that tend to be ignored or side-lined by grand theorising or epochal accounts of social change. The series addresses the diverse manifestations of contemporary capitalism, and considers the various ways in which the `social', `the cultural' and `the economic' are apprehended as tangible sites of value and practice. It is explicitly comparative, publishing books that work across disciplinary perspectives, cross-culturally, or across different historical periods.

We are particularly focused on publishing books in the following areas that fit with the broad remit of the series:

  • Cultural consumption
  • Cultural economy
  • Cities and urban change
  • Materiality, sociality and the post-human
  • Culture and media industries
  • Culture and governance
  • Emerging forms of cultural and economic practice

The series is actively engaged in the analysis of the different theoretical traditions that have contributed to critiques of the `cultural turn'. We are particularly interested in perspectives that engage with Bourdieu, Foucauldian approaches to knowledge and cultural practices, Actor-network approaches, and with those that are associated with issues arising from Deleuze's work around complexity, affect or topology. The series is equally concerned to explore the new agendas emerging from current critiques of the cultural turn: those associated with the descriptive turn for example. Our commitment to interdisciplinarity thus aims at enriching theoretical and methodological discussion, building awareness of the common ground has emerged in the past decade, and thinking through what is at stake in those approaches that resist integration to a common analytical model.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General