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on 29 November 2009
I first this book about 20 years ago, and it has returned to me in my mind (okay, I don't want to get too psycho-analytical here) again and again. The reason is this: it reveals a secret. I have often heard people say stuff like - 'we've got a different sense of humor', or 'jokes are specific to culture' or 'how can you find that funny' - all without any explanation. I mean - if I see a rubbish car, I can usually explain why it is rubbish by saying it's engine is weak or it has no lights etc... but with jokes - they are difficult to quantify and difficult to say why one works and another does not.

Das ist nicht recht, as Freud might have said. Here he basically provides a formula for what a joke is. Therefore, if a joke does not meet a certain set of criteria, then it is not funny. It forces you to take a joke apart, look at its elements and see if it is actually a joke or not. The key to the way Freud worked this out is in the title, that is, if a joke does not relate to the unconscious - those unsaid things we all take for granted, usually in everyday life, then it can't be funny. For example, I am an alien and on my planet, all gaboobas carry shanimas for cultural reasons, which are actually too big for them, although no-one has ever realized or pointed it out. Then I deliver my alien punchline: 'Today I saw a shanima carrying a gabooba to work!!!' Get it? No - exactly, it is not funny (unless you are French which is a whole different matter and none of this applies to you).

Anyway, this book is a sort of light-hearted intellectual read, interesting after having watched or read some great comedy. I definitely recommend it as a way into Freud or if you are over-familiar with the babies and their potties and dream analysis.
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on 10 July 2012
A definitive guide to Freud's theory of humour in relation to the unconscious mind. In later life Freud turned his attention back to humour noting that not everyone is capable of constructing jokes, which explains why some people appear to have a "sense of humour failure".
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