The Line Between Trading Jokes and Trading Insults. Blog Post 2- Taylor Holliday

A joking relationship can either be one of light humor or one of continued roasting. Mary Douglas brings this to light when discussing the Dogon joking partners in her essay “Jokes”, from her book, Implicit Meanings: Essays in Anthropology. She talks about how these partners don’t engage in light hearted jokes but rather in insults. Now they tend to find these “jokes” to be humorous, which brought about a few questions from Griaule about what the line was between a joke and an insult. This though, brought to mind part of a standup special performed by Steve Martin and Martin Short called An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life (Marcus Raboy, 2018). (I was unable to find the clip online, but attached is the trailer for their special). 

Now the entire special technically revolves around them insulting each other, but within the first ten minutes of it, they spend a section of time talking about HOW they are insulting each other. It may be seen as being filled with back-handed compliments, but rather than being insulted they take it in good faith and find it to be quite funny; as the Dogon joking partners do. I believe that it doesn’t necessarily come down to the line between a joke and an insult, but rather the relationship between the person telling the joke and the person whom it is about. Steve Martin and Martin Short have worked with each other for years, thusly making their relationship quite strong. This allows for each of them to make low blows towards the other and have neither of them get offended; rather they just laugh it off and continue. So rather than worrying about where the line is between a joke and an insult, I believe the relationship between the two people that are exchanging the jokes is more important. 

4 comments

  1. I definitely agree with you that the relationship between the two people exchanging the joke is very important. But they have to be prepared to exchange that. If “joke is by nature an anti-rite”, then everything is acceptable. So, is the making of a joke in an established hierarchy (e.g. interviewer/interviewee) at the expense of another person’s image, acceptable too? I am thinking of Between the Two Ferns.

  2. I’d never heard of a stand up special with two performers, it seems like a super interesting concept that does mirror the Dogon joking pairs that Douglas speaks about. I wonder why this isn’t more common, and whether or not it’s been tried very often?

  3. When discussing the line between an insult and a joke, I agree that there can be a grey area. However, do you think there any concrete/formulaic reasons, beyond onscreen chemistry, behind why as viewers we sometimes accept the ‘insult comedy’ as funny and other times, we do not?

  4. I think it is really interesting to think about the extent to which Martin and Short expect the audience to know of their long lasting relationship prior to this project. They clearly have their relationship front and centre of the show but it is inherently personal and specific to the two men. I am curious as to how much they ought to have set out to create an environment that allowed them to ‘offend’ each other and how different that would be from their actual personal relationship. How would the comedy differ between the two?

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