Understanding the fluency of a joke is a language all unto itself, and can be defined as an exchange of emotional and physical cues felt on a visceral level. I have chosen this Sarah Silverman clip because it exquisitely breakdowns a joke within a joke, all while being part of a pre-planned and pre-performed set of jokes to a willing audience.
As Mary Douglas explains, there are many different elements that go into the acceptance and approval of allowing something to be considered funny. Silverman’s explanation of “rape jokes” in this clip would traditionally be considered taboo, as Douglas would put it; but her breakdown of why she is allowed to make said joke invites the audience to laugh. She sets up an environment in which the listener can feel comfortable accepting the tragedy within the humor, by explaining why she thinks it’s funny and overall socially acceptable.
Silverman’s body language comes across as confident, yet also slightly awkward. Her presentation of this information emotionally guides the audience into the rhythm in which they should laugh, with her and at her. After she goes into detail about why rape jokes are a “hidden gem” of the comedy world, she backs herself up by saying “rape victims aren’t known as complainers.” In almost any other setting, this would be an inexcusably hideous thing to say. But because the audience has been given the platform to which the following topic of conversation can be perceived as funny, they in turn laugh when she presents that set of information.
There is also the added element of understand who Sarah Silverman herself is as a comedian. She’s established a following that expects a certain level of uneasy when watching her perform, and you can’t deny that her “brand” of comedy is incorporated within her reputation. She delivers what you would expect to see her say onstage, and in that sense, the audience participates in understanding the trade of information with grace.
Douglas, Mary. “Implicit Meanings: Essays in Anthropology.” Rain, no. 29, 1978, pp. 90–114.