Stand-up comedians - such as Doug Stanhope, Bill Hicks, George Carlin, Sarah Silverman, Ricky Gervais, Amy Schumer and Bill Burr - frequently work in a philosophical realm, in that they reflect upon our foibles and in doing so generate insights into the human condition. At their best, they offer a refined and accessible philosophy for the masses which seeks to penetrate the noise of cultural conflict; to offer distilled comprehension of what we're doing to ourselves and to each other, to offer insight as to why we do it, and even to suggest how we might improve. They tackle many of the big themes, including (but far from limited to) religion, politics, sexuality, purpose, competition, parenthood, childhood, love, hate, mortality, violence, morality, fear, grief, meaning, education, hypocrisy, apathy and addiction.

Has anyone written in depth about the philosophical role, contribution, status, value, dynamic of stand-up comedy? It's an old art form, and I suspect it has served a philosophical purpose for a long time.

Lintott (2017), asks why stand-up comedy has not received greater attention in philosophy of art and makes a case for its philosophical interest. It is not a formal literature review however, and she provides only two citations; Bicknell (2007), and Carroll (2014).


Bicknell, Jeanette. (2007). “What’s Offensive About Offensive Humor?”. Philosophy Today 51(4):458-465.

Carroll, Noel. (2014). “Ethics and Comic Amusement”. British Journal of Aesthetics 54(2):241-253.

Lintott, Sheila, Why (not) philosophy of stand-up comedy? (2017).Faculty Contributions to Books. 110. https://digitalcommons.bucknell.edu/fac_books/110

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    I subscribe to what can be called the "Mistake" theory of humor: that we evolved to laugh when we see someone else make a surprising mistake so that we remember not to make that mistake ourselves. A (funny) mistake involves a setup familiar to us, the part that might follow from the setup in a mistaken, surprising way, and something "bad" or socially inappropriate.
    – causative
    Sep 16, 2022 at 0:20
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    All of these elements make it more important for us to remember the mistake so we don't do it ourselves. A familiar setup means we might encounter the situation ourselves, a more surprising mistake means we weren't enough on guard against the mistake and therefore should try harder to remember it, and greater resulting harm means it is more important to avoid that mistake.
    – causative
    Sep 16, 2022 at 0:21
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    Re the 'opinion-based' close vote... I explicitly asked for sources, not opinion. Also, re. the 'guideline' close vote, I'd appreciate being told which guideline I breached. Sep 16, 2022 at 1:35
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    Court Jester? Heyokha? Judy Tenuta?
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 16, 2022 at 2:10
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    There is enough philosophy of art which is about finding new ways of expressing truth. I do not see any reason why the question as it stands should not be answerable in the context of philosophy. From the Oldest Systematic Program of German Idealism over critical theory and philosophy of humour up to contemporary sources there should be plenty of philosophy proper that has a say on this.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Sep 26, 2022 at 15:03


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