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Trench Humour in World War One

​The Centre for Comedy Studies Research (CCSR), the Magna Carta Institute and the Isambard Centre for History and Heritage proudly present:

Trench Humour in World War One

Jerry Palmer will analyse the type of humour associated with the trench warfare of World War One, a type of humour sometimes called 'black humour'.  The same phrase is used in French, and in German it is called 'gallows humour'.  It is a well-known feature of writings about World War One, both at the time and subsequently.  We will see various examples, from all three languages.  Two elements of the theory of humour provide a basis for analysis: incongruity, and the situation of utterance; the interaction between these two in discourse-based theories of humour is well known.  Arguably, the black humour of the trenches stretches the perception of incongruity to the limits of commonplace recognition, largely because the context of utterance is beyond the scope of most people's experience (then and now).  The analysis focuses primarily on the question of the comprehensibility of this humour once it is taken out of the context in which it was originally made.

Jerry Palmer is the former Professor of Communications at London Metropolitan University and Visiting Professor of Sociology at City University. Originally trained in languages and literature, he is the author of 6 books on various aspects of the mass media and popular culture.  Two of these are on comedy and humour: The Logic of the Absurd (British Film Institute, 1987) and Taking Humour Seriously (Routledge, 1994); he also contributed to the collection Beyond as Joke, edited by Sharon Lockyer and Michael Pickering (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). He is currently preparing a book on soldiers' memoirs of World War One in Britain, France and Germany, from which this talk will be taken.


Please email Comedy.Studies@brunel.ac.uk to reserve your place