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Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters Paperback – May 1, 2001


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Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

Befitting its subject, this study of jokes is neither deep nor systematic, but light, funny, and thought-provoking. As one suspicious of theories, Cohen (Philosophy/Univ. of Chicago) offers ``no comprehensive theory of jokes,'' contenting himself instead with relatively disconnected remarks about how some jokes work and ``what their existence may show about those of us who love them.'' This lack of philosophical ambition is frustrating at times, with some observations trite (e.g., that we joke about death to gain power over it) or insufficiently explored (the promising but stunted section on how one creates a joke). Yet the method fits the material, allowing the author to pepper the book with a diversity of jokes without flattening their humor as a steamroller theory might. Such a book is only as good as its jokes, and most of his are good. His taste runs to long and detailed (the longest runs three pages) but with punch lines worth the wait: see the one about the New York cab driver whose fare wants to be driven to Chicago. But short jokes are supplied too: ``What's big and gray, and wrote gloomy poetry? T.S. Elephant.'' Most are cerebral, sometimes excessively so: ``Wagner is the Puccini of music'' is funny when you think about it, but ``What's round and purple, and commutes to work? An Abelian grape'' may elude all but mathematicians. Among Cohen's better points: all jokes are conditional, presupposing varying degrees of knowledge in the audience; successful jokes achieve intimacy between teller and hearer; and jokes can seem morally objectionable while also being funny. The most detailed treatment is given to Jewish jokes, which Cohen traces to biblical and talmudic roots and characterizes as outsiders' humor rife with ``crazy logic.'' It's not Aristotle's lost book on comedy, but it does combine entertainment and ideas in one gossamer package. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Inside Flap

Jokes is a book of jokes as well as a book about them. Ted Cohen loves a good laugh, but as a philosopher, he is also interested in how jokes work, why they work, and when they don't. Jokes: more humorous than other philosophy books, more philosophical than other humor books.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (May 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226112314
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226112312
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #140,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Matthew M Lind on August 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I might as well admit up front that I didn't buy this book. In fact, Ted Cohen gave me a complementary inscribed copy so that I could reinvigorate my cocktail party repetoire of jokes (my wife says this book will add at least 5 years to our marriage). But for all of you who read this review, you should know that I intend to buy a few dozen copies to distribute to my best friends. And not because Ted needs the money, but because this book is both a scream and thought provoking. If only for laughs, it's well worth the price. And the publisher has considerately type-set the many jokes in bold so that you can easily skip the philosophy. But after you've read the jokes, I recommend you go back and read Ted's thoughts and commentary. You'll see jokes and joking in a new light. Thank you Ted!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
Cohen's pithy but enterprising volume is not only fun to read but he builds a suprisingly sound idea of the joke-work as an aesthetic bond between two or more. This was refreshing in itself as so many now seem to think of jokes as offensive before they begin, or at best as an offensive against political dullards and people with whom we don't agree.
Cohen doesn't fall into this standard academic rap, and so his arguments were a novelty.
I especially enjoyed the joke based on Niels Abel's commutative groups, as I didn't realize that mathematicians had a sense of humor that was parlayed into such odd and exquisite visions.
The ending was an attempt to take on the morality of joking in an age in which almost everyone is offended by everything from dust to sun-rises. While Cohen says go ahead and be offended, he also says to not try to outlaw other people's sense of humor. I felt he set up a Catch-22 that needed more work. On what basis is it reasonable to be offended?
Is it ever reasonable?
Unfortunately, the book ended in this snag of ook after seventy good pages building a model of the joke-work as a mode of appreciation. To end with the Maoist stalemate that has held culture in a quagmire of contention was less than cheering, not that I myself know any way out of that quagmire of ooky skook.
Thank heavens jokes live on. Some of these are really unusual, and Cohen's commentary is always scintillating. Bravo! I am tickled that this book was written and published. Everyone in America should have a heavily annotated copy under their pillow and we would begin to have a civilization worthy of the zig-zags and ziggurats of the star-bellied Sneetches.
-- Kirby Olson, Author
Comedy after Postmodernism
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Sandy Hardy on April 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is the first book I have read by Ted Cohen but it will not be my last. Do not be frightened away by the word "philosophy." Everyone seems to grasp the fact that some jokes work with some people and not with others. This book shows us how jokes depend on a "complex set of conditions" in order to work and that jokes are "conditional." The book has a wonderful cadence allowing room for the philosophy behind and the intimacy caused by good joke telling and -- great jokes too. Laughter is indeed the best medicine -- grab this book and have a laugh!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sandy Hardy on April 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is the first book I have read by Ted Cohen but it will not be my last. Do not be frightened away by the word "philosophy." Everyone seems to grasp the fact that some jokes work with some people and not with others. This book shows us how jokes depend on a "complex set of conditions" in order to work and that jokes are "conditional." The book has a wonderful cadence allowing room for the philosophy behind and the intimacy caused by good joke telling and -- great jokes too. Laughter is indeed the best medicine -- grab this book and have a laugh!
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Format: Paperback
I knew Ted Cohen briefly, as he was my thesis advisor at the University of Chicago. The world should and will forget Ted Cohen's unwelcome idea that there is no theory of jokes or humor.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sandy Hardy on April 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is the first book I have read by Ted Cohen but it will not be my last. Do not be frightened away by the word "philosophy." Everyone seems to grasp the fact that some jokes work with some people and not with others. This book shows us how jokes depend on a "complex set of conditions" in order to work and that jokes are "conditional." The book has a wonderful cadence allowing room for the philosophy behind and the intimacy caused by good joke telling and -- great jokes too. Laughter is indeed the best medicine -- grab this book and have a laugh!
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By KCR on February 14, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful book!
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