Sam Friedman

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What is funny? What makes you laugh? We think of laughter as being universal idea that applies to everyone, no matter their age, ethnicity, gender or social class. In Comedy and Distinction: The Cultural Currency of a ‘Good’ Sense of Humour (Routledge, 2014), Sam Friedman tries to overturn our assumptions about comedy. The book draws on the work of Pierre Bourdieu to show how comedy is deeply related to social position, both in terms of what sorts of comedy people watch and listen to and also in terms of their sense of humour. Comedy is the basis for a form of distinction, as social groups differentiate themselves from others by their tastes. This applies not only to the upper and working class groups in society, but has implications for socially mobile individuals too. Moreover, the book shows how the assumption of good taste in comedy, which is related to having omnivorous cultural interests, is often bound up with symbolic violence from high social status groups towards the rest of society. Alongside the book’s detailed consideration of cultural consumption, the text offers an insight into both the history and the business of comedy, illustrating how the tastemakers of comedy scouting and criticism reinforce the social divisions found in comedy consumption. In exploring both the production and consumption of comedy Friedman develops the idea of cultural capital in comedy, a theoretical idea that will be useful for anyone thinking about the sociology of culture. For the more general reader the book shows how important comedy is to modern society, as opposed to those who would see it as a lowbrow cultural form. By the end of the text the reader will understand that comedy is no laughing matter.

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