The Classification of Humor

By: Jordan C.
For decades comedy television has subconsciously impacted the viewer’s mind. Critics claim that TV shows become classified as comedies because of their satirical outlooks on life, and the humorous tones in which they are presented. Through this definition of TV comedy, television shows from the year 2000 up until the present have aspects of different types of gender construction and deconstruction.


According to Salvatore Attardo, a professor at Texas A&M University, the definition of humor, and current humor research, may not be accurate. Attardo asserts, “humor research has tended to focus on the positive aspects of humor and relegate the negative aspects to the backgrounds” (Attardo 1). This means that most shows that have the label of being comedy may not be the only forms of comedy television that should be looked at. Other forms of comedy television may come off as “dark comedy” and may not be the bubbly type of comedy that viewers expect. So although a TV show may be classified as a comedy, there could be other shows that are not classified, but still have the dark aspects of comedy that are thought to be demonstrated negatively. These dark aspects of comedy can be shown through depressing or unfortunate events that happen to the characters of the show, however, in the end, it comes off as comedy.

Currently, comedy television depends on the gender that viewers identify themselves with. When a female portrays the comedic lead, less male viewers become intrigued to even watch the show (Bore 140). According to the article, “(Un)funny women: TV comedy audiences and the gendering of humour,” the article discusses that female viewers themselves thought that female comedy was less effective than male comedy in getting laughs and holding the attention of an audience (Bore 141). This becomes alarming when women subject themselves to thinking they are inferior to men in any aspect of life. The article also discusses “that clowning and being deliberately foolish have been considered inappropriate forms of behaviour for women because patriarchal gender norms have associated femininity with modesty and prettiness” (Bore 139-140). The characteristics that women seem valued for depend on their looks, their bodies, and how well they cook and clean.

Within the past decade, comedy television shows increasingly poke fun at women for their weight. In the article, “Television Situation Comedies: Female Weight, Male Negative Comments, and Audience Reactions,” the idea that when a male character on a prime-time TV show makes negative comments about a female’s weight, the majority of an audience laughs. In the article it said, “below-average weight females were overrepresented in the programs” as well (Fouts 926). Because in these comedies under-weight females portray important characters, this may have a detrimental affect on the youth of America. People, especially children, learn by example. If younger viewers watch shows that demonstrate these stereotypes, they will be thought of as normal to the viewer. When discussing the negative impacts of shows that contain derogatory remarks towards women, the article says that the “combination of thinness modeling and vicarious reinforcement likely contributes to the internalization of gender and weight stereotypes” (Fouts 926). In these shows, the female rarely makes the derogatory remark towards another female. Typically, the male lead of the show makes these remarks, and is left unpunished the majority of the time. For example, on the recent comedy television show, According to Jim, Jim often makes derogatory remarks toward his wife, however, numerous times his wife just lets it slide without standing up for herself.

Not only do the thin women on these types of shows hurt the psyche of the female viewers, it may seem unfair to men. The unrealistic portrayals on TV give men the idea that they can treat women poorly. Fouts argues that, “when negative comments about women’s bodies are made by male characters and are followed by audience laughter, this suggests implicit societal approval that heavier women’s bodies are laughable and/or to be ridiculed and punished” (927). This creates a large problem in society and continues to affirm male dominance. Because men see examples of other men making fun of women for their bodies on television, it creates a false idea that this behavior portrays how all men act in real life.

Works Cited
Attardo, Salvatore. “Preface: Working class humor.” International Journal of Humor Research. Volume 23, Issue 2, Pages 121-126. EBSCO. Web. 2 Nov. 2010.

Bore, Inger-Lise Kalviknes. “(Un)funny women: TV comedy audiences and the gendering of humour.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 2010 13: 139. EBSCO. Web. 17 Nov. 2010.

Fouts, Kimberly Vaughan. “Television Situation Comedies: Female Weight, Male Negative Comments, and Audience Reactions.” Journal of Sex Roles. EBSCO. Web. 15 Nov. 2010.