Freud, Ali G, and the Humorist – Joe Mendenhall

In Freud’s “On Humor” he describes humor as an attitude towards life. Specifically the attitude he describes can be summed up in this quote “Look! Here is the world, which seems so dangerous! It is nothing but a game for children- just worth making a jest about.”[1] Here, Freud synthesizes the attitude of humor, which includes two of his main points on the subject: that humor is a “rejection of the claims of reality”, and that humor is related to the relationships between adults and children.[2] Both of these points can be seen in Sacha Baron Cohen’s Da Ali G Show, and in particular in the selected clip from Da Ali G Show.

In Da Ali G Show, Baron Cohen rejects reality by playing Ali G, a British gangster who sticks by his moronic convictions no matter what. He speaks with experts in respective fields, and manages to poke fun at them simply by playing dumb. He does exactly that to the veterinarian in the selected clip, refusing to accept that there is a difference between veterans and veterinarians, being concerned that the chickens will hear the veterinarian calling them dumb, etc.

Freud states that “the humorist would acquire his superiority by assuming the role of the grown- up and identifying himself to some extent with his father, and reducing the other people to being children.”[3] Baron Cohen does this in the clip, however in a more roundabout manner. He ultimately assumes the role of being the grown-up and showing how childish people can be, by playing the child himself. He becomes the child, and the person he is poking fun at becomes his father. In this case, the veterinarian acts like a sad parent when confronted by Ali G, bowing and shaking his head in frustration and shame. Although this might seem at first glance to be contradictory to what Freud states the humorist does, when you look at it in terms of power dynamics it fits. Baron Cohen although acting like a child is the father due to his having power over the veterinarian, the true child.

[1] Frued, Sigmund. “On Humor.” In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 21. Hogarth Press. Pg. 166

[2] Frued, Sigmund. “On Humor.” In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 21. Hogarth Press. Pg. 163

[3] Frued, Sigmund. “On Humor.” In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 21. Hogarth Press. Pg. 163

2 comments

  1. Humour as a rejection of the claims of reality is the perfect way to describe what absurdist humour is. It can also be characterised by the differences between adults and children. Ali G – in rejecting reality, acting childish, and poking fun at the “experts” he talks to – exemplifies absurdist humour wonderfully.

  2. I think this is a great example of how we can clearly see a rejection of reality to gain humour. Ali G is clearly rejecting reality but we see the poor Dr. George Washington grasping onto reality to try and bring Ali G back down to it but alas it is never to happen. Somehow, he is then able to position himself above his interviewee because as an audience, we know that the comedian,Baron Cohen, is the one pulling the strings.

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