The acceleration of contemporary life also plays a role in this lack of being. The society of laboring and achievement is not a free society. It generates new constraints. Ultimately, the dialectic of master and slave does not yield a society where everyone is free and capable of leisure, too. Rather, it leads to a society of work in which the master himself has become a laboring slave. In this society of compulsion, everyone carries a work camp inside. This labor camp is defined by the fact that one is simultaneously prisoner and guard, victim and perpetrator. One exploits oneself. It means that exploitation is possible even without domination.

― Byung-Chul Han, The Burnout Society

Now there is a concept of Punching up and Punching down in comedy. As someone who buys the conclusion of The Burnout Society will notice there is an immediate threat to humor. Suddenly anyone can be offended! You are punching yourself in both directions up and down at the same time with practically any joke that tackles the issues of the society of laboring and achievement. Someone is bound to say you are "punching down" while another will retort he's "punching up" and lead to a sort of polarization which is an unintended consequence.

Is there a version of virtuous humor that survives under this premise? And is there a way to take "the joke"?

  • It sounds like the author is defending the practice of slavery by drawing a false equivalence between being forced by threat of violence to labor for the benefit of others and being forced by the nature of reality to labor for your own benefit. Feb 10 at 20:30
  • Oh nothing of that sort Feb 11 at 1:33
  • you might want to read this : the idea seems to be an argument for coping with excess (humour is a good defence mechanism) not redeeming yourself. philosophy need not change anything substantive to be worthwhile, though doing so is often preferable
    – user65174
    Mar 12 at 19:01
  • @MoreAnonymous what is a humor? Mar 12 at 19:32
  • "Nothing endures like undress."
    – Scott Rowe
    Mar 14 at 0:25

4 Answers 4


Comedians have long walked the very narrow line between 'too offensive' and 'not offensive enough'. It's not a problem unique to our current circumstances, although many comedians (often less skilled comedians) and commentators have bemoaned contemporary culture as less tolerant of 'good' comedy.

The best comedians however are able to (must be able to) adapt to the shifting norms and standards of the cultures in which they ply their trade. Comics who rely on shock value alone; who infuse their jokes with little value other than offence, may well fall by the wayside. Skilled comics however tend to rise to the top in challenging social environments, by finding creative ways to tackle issues typically deemed taboo, especially when fumbled by less talented hands.

If you haven't already, check out the work of Bill Burr, Nicky Glaser, Mark Normand, Frankie Boyle, Ricky Gervais, Anthony Jeselnik, Gary Delaney and Jimmy Carr (apologies for the lack of female work. I'm going off the top of my head).

To be a comic and attribute one's failure to the 'oppressive standards of the time' might suggest a lack of willingness and/or ability to navigate these standards (and even ridicule them) by means of the craft.

There are, no doubt, some unfortunate casualties, such as those comics who like to work at the extremes; utilising offensive material not in order to offend, but demonstrate their performative bravery in making offence itself, funny. There is a humour to be found in the act/viewing of the comedian who, in the face of increasingly politically correct entertainment structures (and sometimes in the face of their own audience's expectations) treads ground designed to challenge the gag reflex (pun intended). One such casualty seems to have been Jerry Sadowitz. There is nothing stopping Jerry from adapting though, should he choose to do so. Whether he does likely depends on how deeply he feels such a bow to authority to be a betrayal of his style. We shall see.

In the absence of a definition of 'virtuous humour', I propose that skilled comedians represent one of any progressive society's most valuable assets. This has long been recognised. See court jester.

"Jester's privilege is the ability and right of a jester to talk and mock freely without being punished".

Perhaps this privilege is being eroded to an extent, but it seems likely that there were always certain standards a jester crossed in peril of punishment; that the privilege only extended so far, especially when mocking those in power. The Jester too, would have had to adapt to the differing humours of those who occupied the throne. So must they now adapt to our gradual realisations in regards to how cruel and damaging some forms of humour can be. Again, many of the best comics find virtue by venturing boldly into the taboo and using outrage to unify rather than polarise. It is an exceptionally difficult skill, and one we should treasure. It is far easier to cause upset for the sake of it, without plumbing any real social, emotional or psychological depth, although some might find virtue in the very act of standing up to any limitation on free speech, even when it transgresses into hate speech. If people are really interested in such performance, it will survive in some form. Some comedy clubs have emerged (seeComedy Unleashed as one example, and perhaps Joe Rogan's new club, Comedy Mothership as another), which seek to provide a home for edgier humour. This is a predictable consequence of what many see as an overly paternal state of affairs in the comedy world, but even in these clubs I suspect you will find comics who are finding ways to adapt to new expectations more than they stubbornly hold some 'sacred' 'inviolable' ground.

If 'virtuous humour', is that humour which engages us in meaningful ways; prompting us to examine those of our foibles we are typically too afraid to raise in polite conversation, or merely by making despondent people laugh, we are in good hands, and still - despite protestation to the contrary - in a very tolerant corner of the comedic world.


First of all it's not straight forwards why this should be a necessity in the first place. Like sure in order to have leisure somewhere someone will have to work, so a master would need a slave and without masters everybody would need to work. And while self-exploitation is an option you could also decide to couple your work to your preferred outcome. Like unless there is still a master who wants you to do more you could take leisure in accordance with your work...

But on the actual question. Humor is situation and context based in it's quite possible to laugh at the absurdity of life without making fun of another person. That might still age badly with our increase in knowledge of context and environment but seriously there's tons of humor that does not involve violating someones dignity or humiliating them publicly. Not sure you'd call that virtuous humor but it's certainly possible.

  • 1
    have you read bakhtin?
    – user65174
    Mar 12 at 19:25
  • 1
    "laughing at the absurdity of life" is my raisin debt.
    – Scott Rowe
    Mar 14 at 0:29

Suppose I wrote the last Great American Novel, then I or someone else burned it in a dustbin. The value of the work, I think, does not exist in me (I won't be around much longer), my experiences of writing etc. it (I sold my soul to write it), or the existence of the work (who cares). Truth content, I am reliably told, is a social quality, a fact about society that I suppose you could say accounts for its creation.

tl;dr achievement is shared in, and there can be virtuous humour.

  • Content is always a lie, because any ideas in not a content, they are being out of content, content is only a form, lie form of something,version of pseudoreality. Content created by the readers request, "fun service" - it is pure content, sex scenes for adult auditory for example, content needs for expand audience reach, it have not meaning or mind out of subject thinking. Mar 12 at 19:26
  • i don't mean to prop up the master @άνθρωπος just suggest that he's a dummy. content to keep on
    – user65174
    Mar 12 at 19:37
  • to keep on what? Mar 12 at 19:48
  • 1
    @άνθρωπος oh, i suppose i am trying to link the idea of contentment to dualism haha
    – user65174
    Mar 12 at 19:52
  • 1
    most of Eng term are not dual, and not connected to ideas in straight line, terms are boxes with refer inside - professional or else slang. Content is a specific term of marketing. Idea of marketing is to get more money, and more involved people = more money, there is no more any other idea in a content. I make a content mean I make the money on your supporting. Support me by liking at the down, subscribe my content, - more subscribers mean more money from a reklama and more donate possibilities. Mar 12 at 20:23

Self-Deprecating Humor

Make yourself the butt of the joke. Offend yourself. But forgive yourself for offending yourself with your humour.

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