The Case for Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Humor

by Leon Rappoport


Explores how African Americans, Jews, Asians, and other under-represented groups use comedy to ease and sometimes foster social tensions. This work also examines the heated issue of when and why it's socially permissible to laugh along.

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Cover image for Punchlines

October 2005


Pages 200
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Popular Culture/General

The concept of ethnic, racial, and gender humor is as sensitive a subject today as it has ever been; yet at no time in the past have we had such a quantity of this humor circulating throughout society. We can see the power of such content manifested continually in our culture's films and stand-up comedy routines, as well as on popular TV sitcoms, where Jewish, black, Asian, Hispanic, and gay characters and topics have seemingly become essential to comic scenarios. Though such humor is often cruel, it can be a source of pride and play among minorities, women, and gays. Leon Rappoport's incisive account takes an in-depth look at ethnic, racial and gender humor. Despite the polarization that is often apparent in the debates such humor evokes, the most important melting pot in this country may be the one that we enter when we share a laugh at ourselves.


  • This timely work displays ethnic, racial, and gender humor in both its aspects: as an aggressive instrument of prejudice and as a powerful defense against it. Rappoport explores the origins and implications of the various slurs, stereotypes, and obscenities that are typical of this double-edged form of modern comedy, as well as the ways in which irony has been employed by minority figures as a weapon against oppression. Broad in scope and lively in style, Rappoport's volume is enhanced by illustrative jokes and comedy routines, and should keep readers engaged, entertained, and provoked throughout.


"[T]his book will be good source for looking at an important aspect of humor. In defending politically incorrect humor, Rappoport draws on the extensive writing of sociologist Christie Davies, folklorist Alan Dundes, and others but supplies additional observations and conclusions. He presents the sword and shield metaphor clearly: humor is a sword that targets stereotypes and a shield that deflects from them. Humor does not create the stereotypes; it plays with them. The author provides extensive treatment of relevant incongruities among modern humorists, namely Lenny Bruce (for Jewish humor) and Richard Pryor (for African American humor). The discussion continues through more contemporary examples, bringing in an unusual amount of information for such a brief work. Rappoport even reveals Whoopi Goldberg's pre-stage name. Punchlines can be read as an end in itself or as an informative guide to a broader literature. Highly recommended. All readers; all levels."Choice

"No-one will be able to fault Professor Rappoport for a lack of breadth of knowledge and he has mastered the literature of folklorists and sociologists about racial, ethnic and gender humor as well as that of his own discipline, psychology....[H]e writes in an admirably clear way. He has delivered his punchlines well and made out an excellent case for racial, ethnic and gender humor."Humor Research

"[T]he volume is packed with information, with both assimilated insights from Rappoport's own research and also from his wide reading in the research literature on humour... many chapters are a pleasure to read and laguage scholars wanting to learn more about humour research and the social psychology aspects of ethnic wisecracking could do well by starting here."Journal of Sociolinguistics

"The author's hypothesis is that racial, ethnic, and gender humor (called here stereotype humor) can serve a positive social function. He maintains that stereotype humor acts as a powerful force against prejudice when used to ridicule stereotypes and slurs....[t]his book is recommended for the information it provides on the history of this type of humor."MultiCultural Review

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