Bergson and Freud in Jerry and April (Mado)

Mary Douglas in “Implicit Meanings; essays in Anthropology (Jokes)” discusses the difference between Bergson’s and Freud’s understanding of a joke. For Bergson, “humour chastises stupidity” and it is an “upsurge of life”. Whereas for Freud, the joke allows the unconscious “to bubble up”. The common denominator, Douglas inserts, is the fact that “the joke is seen as an attack in control.”


I think Parks and Recreation provides a good example of this common denominator that these two different approaches share. The American sitcom follows the narrative of a group of people who are public servants, working in their local government. Throughout the series, the supposedly action which is the implementation of bureaucracy is interrupted by a perpetual game of performances for comic effect. Therefore, there is a constant attack in the control of the narrative.


Jerry’s and April’s characters could exemplify the two separate examples provided by Bergson and Freud, respectively, for the definition of a joke. That is, in this quiet bureaucratic setting, the performance of humour varies. Jerry’s character provides a pattern of the expectation of laughter produced by the element of clumsiness. On the other hand, April’s character is the projection of a surreal revelation of her deepest and darkest thoughts. April’s comments are intended to make the viewer laugh but they are not intended to make the other characters laugh on screen. Whereas Jerry’s character is put in place for the production of both on and off-screen laughter. If Jerry is a “helpless automaton”, April does not have a “filtering control”.


The rest of the characters add to the complexity of the humour produced and therefore all characters fall into the same category of comedy, which is a situation comedy. Trying to identify the different means of inspiration when creating television characters, could be interesting.

One comment

  1. Freud makes a point that three people are necessary for some types of jokes: the joker, the object of the joking, and the inactive listener who laughs at the joke. I would argue that in Parks and Rec, we the audience take on this third role. April is a character who takes advantage of the show’s ‘mockumentary’ style, and often looks directly into the camera during or after delivering her typical weird/funny statements. By doing this, she makes us complicit in the joke. This fits with your point that while April makes the audience laugh, she does not make the other characters on screen laugh.

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