Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious

By Sigmund Freud

Sample Questions

1. Compare and contrast jokes, the comic and humour. Look at each in terms of the various aspects:

Psychogenesis ---> Characteristics e.g. brevity, condensation, laughter vs smile etc. --->
[either] ---> Tendentious - format (verbal / conceptual) Techniques
[or] ---> Innocent - format (verbal/conceptual) Techniques

Also compare the underlying mechanisms of each. In which of these areas are they different? In which are they the same? What further questions does this type of analysis prompt? (e.g. linguistic problems behind distinctions between the three concepts etc.)

How are Freud's conclusions about the distinguishing features of each, compatible or incompatible with alternative views and definitions?

In conclusion all three seem to have the same underlying mechanism - achieving economy in psychical expenditure - as they all have the same general effect - producing pleasure - although to varying degrees. Freud thought does distinguish at other levels such as the psychical localization of each, and the purpose or not behind them.

2. Critically discuss the evidence for Freud's joke-techniques. Define a joke-technique. What exactly are they?

Describe the joke techniques cited by Freud and give examples of each.

What evidence does Freud use to identify these techniques?

What are the problems of his source of evidence? (you can never be certain that you have an exhaustive list and definite theory, one has to rely on finding counter examples too much, Many foreigners find it hard to relate to many of the jokes that Freud cites since they lose their joke technique and ability to produce laughter on being translated etc.) What are the benefits? (there is a plethora of examples - no shortage of data; etc.)

Are there any other additional techniques, not cited by Freud? If so what are they?

Could the joke-techniques described by Freud be described/classified in any other way? Is so, how?

In conclusion, decide whether Freud's classification is more or less acceptable than alternatives, highlighting the weaknesses and strengths of the evidence that his, and others use.

3. Why do we tell jokes?

What is a joke? Is this a universal definition? If not, why not and how does this affect their perceived role?

What effects do jokes achieve:


1) pleasure (laughter - for the hearer, and relief of discharge for the speaker etc.)
2) evading restrictions to open otherwise inaccessible (as they are hostile or considered obscene) sources of pleasure - but look for others.

What role is played by mood in promoting joke telling?

Further questions: such as do jokes play a larger role in society as a whole? - think of newspaper headlines etc.

You could even look at the reasons behind jokes in comparison to the reasons behind dreams and comic behaviour etc.

In conclusion, according to Freud, there are various reasons for jokes:

1) to economize psychical expenditure
2) to obtain pleasure - as in our childhood and
3) to evade restrictions to get to otherwise inaccessible source of pleasure.

But note that this is not a fully conclusive role for jokes and that they can be seen to play other roles, at different levels.