Do you think Margaret Thatcher had Girl Power? Trahair, Freud and Eric Andre.

In Lisa Trahair’s chapter, ‘Jokes and their Relation to…’ Trahair engages with Freud’s theory about the joke, and presents Freud’s joke scenario, which “involves three people: the joke teller, the person to whom the joke is being told, and the object, or butt, of the joke.”[1] Through his analysis, Freud thus “differentiates between the conditions of production and reception,” which certainly works as method to think about more simplistic jokes.[2]

Freud’s theory does not always apply, as demonstrated through the following clip: 


In The Eric Andre Show, Andre disputes Freud’s theory that the joke scenario involves three people, as the conditions of production and reception are blurred. The show’s basic premise is that Andre interviews celebrities with the intention of creating a wacky and sometimes uncomfortable environment for the interviewees. The production of the joke in the clip involves two people instead of three. When Andre asks “do you think she [Thatcher] effectively utilized Girl Power by funnelling money into illegal paramilitary death squads in Northern Ireland?” he plays the role of the joke teller, and Mel B, not quite understanding what Northern Irish death squads have to do with Girl Power, is the object, or butt, of the joke.

However, no-one within the diegesis of the show is being ‘told’ the joke. There is no live audience giggling at the uncomfortable pauses, nor has a laugh-track been edited into the scene. The comedy comes from the joke not technically being a joke. We shouldn’t find paramilitary death squads funny, yet we can’t help but laugh when we watch the clip online.

Another way in which Andre diverts from Freud’s comic theory is through blurring reception and production. Although Mel B is the ‘butt’ of the joke, the ‘punchline’ (death squad) is being directed at her. Thus, she is integral to both production and reception of the joke.

In other instances, the celebrity interviewee is aware that Andre’s purpose as a talk show host is to create a ridiculous environment, and thus they are ‘in’ on the joke, despite also being the ‘butt’ of the joke. for further viewing check out the Jack Black interview:


[1] Lisa Trahair, The Comedy of Philosophy: Sense and Nonsense in Early Cinematic Slapstick, (New York, State University of New York Press: 2007), p. 110

[2] Ibid. p.110


  1. The clip you provided matches all the characteristics of what Lisa Trahair might have thought of as a displacement joke, since lot of the humor seems to derive from the anticipation built up in the first half of the joke (e.g. with something as cheery as ‘Girl Power’) and the immediate displacement of that expectation with the second half (e.g. with ‘death squads in Northern Ireland’).

  2. I find that what Trahair describes (though different) can still be heavily associated with Freud’s second assessment in his theory of humor where he states “[the joke] may take place between two persons, of whom one takes no part at at all in the humorous process, but is made the object of humorous contemplation by the other,” in this case Mel B being the object and Andre being the person who makes the joke. However, I still think there is value to be made in understanding where the audience comes into play in this dynamic.

Leave a Reply