Is a Joke Really like a Frog?

One of two pieces for today that discuss E.B. White’s famous discussion of jokes and frogs.

Humor in America

A commonly accepted truth holds that to explain a joke ruins it.

But is it true?

Humor depends upon some level of shared ground — a shared communal or cultural background that helps give the joke meaning.  Whatever theory of humor you ascribe to, or whichever theory is appropriate to a particular joke (the exposure of incongruities, aggression, assertion of superiority, masked aggression, suspended defense mechanism, surprise, etc.), it is the shared experience, assumptions, and vocabulary that together create the joke.  Humor reveals, therefore, the boundaries of a particular community.  Further, humor draws or re-draws those communal lines based on who “gets” the joke and who does not.  But whether the joke’s purpose is to more firmly draw the line between “us” and “them” or whether it seeks to bridge communal gaps and make “us” a larger set of people, explaining a joke works only when it is successful in…

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