The aim of this article is to clarify the fuzzy notion of “successful humour”. It focuses on humorous sequences in French face-to-face interactions which are both successful and have a same type of target: a collective “Other” (foreign culture, a French or foreign institution, a French or foreign socio-professional group). It will be shown that laughing about/at others (with all the aggressiveness this could imply) is not inconsistent with the necessary collaborative aspect of the conversation.
On the contrary, the necessary collaboration between the participants will be highlighted through analysing humour in two different but complementary ways. Firstly, analysing humour through one specific target (the collective “Other”) will show that the participants rely on shared knowledge to display fictitious identities allowing them to construct humour. Secondly, a structural analysis of successful humorous sequences will deepen the notion of successful humour, highlighting two different structures: a two-part structure and a three-part structure. While the terms “successful humour” will be restricted to the former, the notion of “humorous convergence” will be proposed to refer to the latter.
This study is based on 51 successful humorous sequences extracted from three face-to-face interactions audio- and video-recorded in an anechoic room at Aix-Marseille University, France
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