Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"Clap Humor"

I use this term all the time but I guess it's not really that common, or obvious in meaning.

"Clap humor" is an ostensible joke that isn't really funny, but which expresses a sentiment with which the audience agrees. They laugh, but they mostly clap. Stand-up comedians will do lame local humor, knowing that people will clap out of recognition. Over the years that I've watched him, I've seen David Letterman do essentially the same fat jokes about Oprah, Roseanne Barr and Rosie O' Donnell. Or, you can take any political joke and substitute today's politician with the original:

A man died and went to heaven. As he stood in front of St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, he saw a huge wall of clocks behind him. He asked, "What are all those clocks?" St. Peter answered, "Those are Lie-Clocks. Everyone on Earth has a Lie-Clock. Every time you lie, the hands on the clock will move." "Oh" said the man. "And whose clock is that one?" "That's Mother Teresa's. The hand have never moved, indicating that she never told a lie." "Incredible" said the man. "And whose clock is that one?" St. Peter responded, "That's Abraham Lincoln's clock. The hands have moved twice, telling us that Abe told only two lies in his entire life." "Where's [whoever]'s clock?" asked the man. "[Whoever]'s clock is in Jesus' office. He's using it as a ceiling fan.

Other ones include such classics as "He said he killed the pig" and "God doesn't think he's [blank]".

The thing about "clap humor" is that it's easy. You just set yourself up with a particular audience and rely on their agreement to get half your job done. It is, to some degree, a fair tool in the comic's toolbox, but it gets old fast, and you have to not care about alienating people.


  1. The best example of clap humor is the joke about President Clinton getting an STD from Monica Lewinsky. Or is that not Clap humor?

  2. Robin Williams makes a career of this as does Jon Stewart and Steve Colbert. They massage their ultra liberal audiences without challenging them. The thing I like about people like Kathy Griffin is that I might not agree with her but she's not afraid to push the envelope. And she puts her money where her mouth is. She went overseas to the war zone to entertain the troops. She has earned the right to be a commie cunt.

  3. That would be The Clap Humor. Subtle difference.

    As for earning the right, yeah, there's a lot to be said for that. Scarlett Johannson raised her stock in my book by doing the troop tour. She's gotta be a sight for sore eyes when you're out there in burka-land.

    She's no Ann-Margaret, mind you. But it counts.

    I've been listening to a woman--mother of a guy I've known most of my life--talk for about 30 years about how we're running out of oil, environmental danger, etc.

    She's very anti-war. Probably all wars, but certainly this one in Iraq. But she does volunteer-work for the troops.

    I think that's honorable; I think that's earning the right.

  4. I was going to say you just described "The Daily Show" but I see trooper york essentially beat me to it...

  5. Yeah, "Daily Show" is clap humor.

    Somebody on Althouse made the observation that "The View" was basically a show that destroys talented comediennes (Whoopi and Behar).

    There's the problem with clap humor, right there. Comics are pretty insecure--I mean it's a cliché--and being loved is possibly more powerful a feeling than being able to make people laugh.


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