What’s so funny about race? — Podcast

A lot of us turn to comedians we know and love to help us laugh at ourselves, our communities or the overwhelm of politics. Just look at the beautiful accolades received by Trevor Noah this month as he bade goodbye to his Daily Show audiences.

Noah and other comedians like Roy Wood Jr., Mindy Kaling, Ali Wong, Chris Rock and Hasan Minhaj put race and other sensitive issues at the centre of their comedy. This gives us — the audience — reason to laugh, whether the jokes are directed towards us or not. It’s a way to release some of the tensions around some serious issues.

As comedy evolves, where is the line between a lighthearted joke and deep-rooted racism? And how far is too far?

In this episode of Don’t Call Me Resilient, we get into it with Faiza Hirji, associate professor of communication studies and media arts at McMaster University and award-winning stand-up comedian Andrea Jin. They look at how comedy can be an easier way to talk about difficult issues, and at how we can find a way to laugh with each other — rather than at each other.

Trevor Noah, host of ‘The Daily Show’ tackled some deep issues about race using humour. Here he speaks at the 2022 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The psychology behind laughing at jokes can be traced back many years. While Hobbes and Plato suggested that making fun helps us feel superior, Kant thought about it more as a cognitive shift from a serious situation into playful territory. More recently, psychologist Daniela S. Hugelshofer showed how humour can act as a buffer against hopelessness and depression.

According to marketing psychologist Peter McGraw, who runs the Humor Research Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder, “benign violation” needs to be satisfied for us to find something funny. That is, for a joke to be funny, there needs to be a social or cultural violation and it must be benign.

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Read more in the Conversation

Read more:
Mindy Kaling’s ‘Never Have I Ever’ makes me feel hopeful about representation, gender and race

Read more:
Goodbye Apu — here’s what you meant to us

Read more:
Psychology behind the unfunny consequences of jokes that denigrate

Read more:
Roseanne Barr: saying ‘it’s a joke’ is no defence for racism

Read more:
Stand-up comics should concentrate on being funny: so don’t take offence if they are

Read more:
‘I wanna be white!’ Can we change race?


For an unedited transcript of this episode, go here.

Clips used in this episode

  • Andrea Jin on The Late Late show with James Corden on Oct. 25, 2022
  • Andrea Jin, Grandma’s Girl
  • Russell Peters: Comedy Now Uncensored Special, 2004 (Toronto)
  • Eman El-Husseini: Comedy Now Uncensored, Season 15, 2012 (Toronto)
  • Mindy Kaling: Never Have I Ever …”felt super Indian“ (S1, E4)

Don’t Call Me Resilient is produced in partnership with the Journalism Innovation Lab at the University of British Columbia and with a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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