Mary Douglas and the Morality of ‘Excrement’ Jokes by Stewart Clark

Toilet humour is perhaps the most juvenile form of comedy, but the deviant nature of some poo jokes have crept into adult spheres of comedy for decades. Mary Douglas in her article “Jokes” discusses the perception of jokes with relation to toilet humour. She writes, “When people throw excrement at one another, either verbally or actually, can this be interpreted as a case of wit, or merely written down as a case of throwing excrement?” [1] Douglas’ reference to poo jokes is interesting here and makes us wonder if toilet humour actually holds a valid place in comedy.

Firstly, I do think poo jokes can be “interpreted as a case of wit.” [2] The scene in The Inbetweeners 2 (Beesley and Morris, 2014) when a faeces is fired into Will’s face in the middle of a water park is an unexpected gag and the hilarious aftermath makes for a truly comedic scene.

Similarly, the ‘shit hits the fan’ scene in Airplane! (Abrahams, D. Zucker and J. Zucker, 1980) is an example of witty toilet humour as it works on a literal and metaphorical level making it one of the film’s funniest gags.

On the other hand, Douglas is correct to argue that some toilet humour jokes can be “merely written down as a case of throwing excrement,” in that they are just not funny. [3] For example, the YouTube video Funny Throwing Poop on People Prank Went Wrong! is a literal example of pranksters throwing fake poop at random people and, in my opinion, an example of when toilet humour in adult spheres is fundamentally not humorous and frustrating to watch.

 

Douglas argues that “it would be wrong to suppose that the acid test of a joke is whether it provokes laughter or not.” [4] While I agree with this relating to humour overall, toilet humour is so juvenile that it needs to be crafted in an articulate way in order to succeed as a joke.

 

 

[1] Mary Douglas, “Jokes,” Implicit Meanings (New York, Routledge, 1975), p. 92.

[2] Ibid., p. 92.

[3] Ibid., p. 92.

[4] Ibid., p. 92.

The Inbetweeners 2 Scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jhIwDP6Aj8

Airplane! Scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fa7nSzCiGXk

Funny Throwing Poop on People Prank Went Wrong! Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OWlczQ_Q9E

 

 

One comment

  1. I like how you took both sides of the argument and analyzed them. Your analysis of toilet humor and its place on screen shows that you understand the time and place in which this humor is deemed as being appropriate. I fully agree that these jokes need to be crafted in such a way that they meld in with the situation, so that the humor is seen, but not over the top.

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