Listen to Stephen Colbert’s controversial performance at this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, or take a look at recent Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, and you’ll see that humor has become much more than a laughing matter. In fact, as Paul Lewis argues in Cracking Up, American humor has grown ever more purposeful and embattled over the past thirty years.
Covering topics that range from the revealing jokes of Jon Stewart to the deceiving one-liners of George W. Bush, and from the tongue-in-cheek sadism of Hanibal Lecter to the gentle humor of hospital clowns, Lewis shows that this purposeful comedy is both good and bad for Americans. In a culture that both enjoys and quarrels about jokes, it expresses our most nurturing and hurtful impulses, informs and misinforms us, and exposes as well as covers up the shortcomings of our leaders. In short, humor is delightful, relaxing, and distracting—and that’s precisely why we must recognize that by freeing us from the constraints of logic and the restraints of conscience, jokes and jokers can do real harm.
Read the press release.