GoggleBox: Watching an Audience



In reading Freud’s essay on Humour this week, particularly the section on the two dimensions of ‘humorous attitude’[1] – where humour is described as being able to emanate purposefully from an individual, or may be directed towards an individual by a second party – I was reminded of Channel 4’s Gogglebox, which has a structure of humour that seems to challenge Freud’s.


The main premise of the show is simple: Families, usually eccentric, are recorded watching a selection of TV shows broadcast within a week of each episode’s air date; then their funniest reactions are edited together for our enjoyment. The humour here is Bergsonian as it stems from unplanned and unintentional gestures. However, it is difficult to place the direction of this humour into Freud’s structure.


The viewer is placed in a situation where they become an audience to an audience. On one level, we are taking comedic pleasure from the eccentricities of the families shown. Their humour may stem from their involuntary, mechanical behaviour such as a strange laugh or accent, but also from jokes that they intentionally make about the shows they are watching. Thus, they families of GoggleBox embody both of Freud’s comedic standpoints. Yet, there is a third element to the show which relies upon the role of the audience and their relatability. In this clip, we see families react to the now famous “BBC Dad” interview. I argue that it is through relating our own experience of spectatorship to each family’s expression of it that the humour in GoggleBox stems from. Perhaps we laugh at the show both because it expresses how different others’ reactions are to our own, but also how similar they are to us through our shared identity as spectators.

[1] Freud, Sigmund. “On Humour.” In The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 21. Hogarth Press, 1961 pp. 160-166

One comment

  1. I didn’t know what GoogleBox is as I had never heard of it. Reading your analysis, I think everything you point out is correct. Yet, I’d like to add that this kind of voyeurism that produces laughter reminds me also of what Baudelaire suggests: essentially that firstly laughter comes from superiority and secondly that laughter is satanic.

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