Sigmund, Safe Words and Staged Arrests

“The ego refuses to be distressed by the provocations of reality, to let itself be compelled to suffer. It insists that it cannot be affected by the traumas of the external world; it shows in fact, that such traumas are no more than occasions for it to gain pleasure.”


Freud’s discussion on humour explores the idea that by refusing the trauma of the external and in fact deriving pleasure from these scenarios the mind creates a humorous situation for the self and for a non-involved spectator.


A very clear example of this process being played out is in the YouTube video I have linked. The video, later revealed to have been staged, shows a man being chased down, searched and arrested by an agent. Throughout the arrest the man makes constant jokes, for example telling the agent his safe word, making silly noises whenever he is moved, commenting on things being removed from his pockets and other things to make light of the situation.


The interesting thing in this example is the fact of the video being staged and how that interacts with Freud’s theory. If the video was real, and for a while many thought it was, then the trauma that the man, and therefore the viewer, is refusing to experience and deriving pleasure from would also be real.

The video being staged however means that the event is not actually real and as such is only an imitation of the genuine trauma, what is interesting then is how the humour is still derived from the situation. If no actual trauma is being refused its traumatising effects, then it is just the idea of someone doing this that becomes humorous in itself and this is an idea that Freud does not necessarily address within his writing.


Becoming aware of the fact that the video is staged changed my personal experience of the video, and of many others in the comment section. Many of the comments seek to expose the falseness as an almost slight on the video and it is interesting how this staged event fronting as real has its impact altered when it is shown to be what it is.





Sigmund Freud, “On Humor,” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (London: Hogarth, 1955), 160-166.



  1. It really is interesting to think about how passionate viewers can be in revealing the staged nature of the video, and how their reactions to the produced humour change! I would be interested in reading theories about that. However, I think that the situation with the jokes it inspires being staged doesn’t contradicts Freud’s theory on humour, since the art of acting usually strives for a level of verisimilitude in recreating people’s reactions to circumstances. Similarly to how onscreen portrayal of an emotion, for example grief, does not contradict the logic of relation between a situation, such as loss of something important, and the resulting subjective experience, such as grief, the jokes on-screen might simply be a copy of mechanisms behind joking.

  2. I like this take on Freud’s theory, Jacob. I think the fact that it is staged is particularly interesting as I wonder if it is possible to see past the fact it is staged in order for the filmmakers (or YouTubers) to get across the essence of the situation to the viewer, without having an impact on the humorist. Is it possible to still have the same comedic impact upon the viewer without the initial joke teller having to have gone through the trauma?

Leave a Reply