‘There’s something fundamental about what makes you laugh.’

Comedy as an aesthetic experience

Authored by: Sam Friedman

Routledge International Handbook of the Sociology of Art and Culture

Print publication date:  September  2015
Online publication date:  September  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415855112
eBook ISBN: 9780203740248
Adobe ISBN: 9781135008895


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In 2013 the English comedian Michael McIntyre became officially the most successful comedian in the world. His stand-up tour, Showtime, grossed £21 million in ticket sales and his three comedy DVDs sold more than three million copies (Price 2013). The secret of McIntyre’s success, according to most commentators, is simple. He makes people laugh. As Britain’s most respected comedy critic, Steve Bennett has repeatedly pointed out, McIntyre’s ‘laugh-rate’ is simply unrivalled, his ‘perfectly-honed’ and ‘precision-engineered’ stand-up akin to a ‘chuckle-factory running at maximum efficiency’ (Bennett 2009; 2012). In many ways, this positive correlation between laughter and success is relatively uncontroversial in the world of comedy. After all, comedy is unique among art forms in the sense that its appreciation implies a specific bodily reflex. Most thus see laughs as the fundamental building block of comedy, and laughter-density the primary indicator of a comedian’s quality and success.

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