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POLITICAL HUMOR SEE ALSO “HUMOR CARTOONS” by Don L. F. Nilsen And Alleen Pace Nilsen The Budster


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Political humor see also humor cartoons l.jpg


by Don L. F. Nilsen

And Alleen Pace Nilsen


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The Budster

  • Between 1984 and 1992, Bud Clark was the mayor of Portland, Oregon. Clark owned a Portland bar, and in 1979, he did a poster in which he stood facing a nude statue. His bare legs could be seen beneath an open raincoat.

  • The captain read “expose yourself to art.”

  • It sold more than 500,000 copies to benefit a local arts group.

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 231)


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  • In 1992, President Bush became ill at a formal state dinner in Tokyo, and vomited on Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, and then he fainted.

  • Barbara Bush joked that the incident was the fault of Emperor Akihito and Crown Prince Naruhito because they had beaten George in tennis earlier in the day.

  • Barbara Bush explained, “We Bushes aren’t used to losing.”


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  • Mort Sahl said that people did not vote for Ronald Reagan as much as they voted against Jimmy Carter. Sahl concluded…

  • “If Reagan had been unopposed, he would have lost”

    (Nilsen & Nilsen 233)


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Larry Craig

  • In January of 2008, the American Dialect Society selected “toe-tapper” to be the most outrageous word of 2007.

  • They selected “to have a wide stance” to be the most likely to succeed word in 2007.

  • Both of these phrases were inspired by Larry Craig.


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  • William Gladstone attacked fellow statesman Benjamin Disraeli in front of the British Parliament by saying that Disraeli would die “either on the gallows or of a horrible disease.”

  • Benjamin Disraeli responded, “That depends on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.”

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 243-244)


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  • After Gerald Ford tripped on the stairs leaving Air Force One, Chevy Chase worked this tripping into his act.

  • Ford appreciated Chase’s humor, and in 1986 he hosted a “Humor and Presidency Symposium at the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


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  • At Ohio State University, Gerald Ford opened a speech by telling the audience, “So much has happened in the few months since you were kind enough to invite me to speak here today. I was then America’s first instant Vice-President, and then I became America’s first instant President.

  • The Marine Corps Band is so confused they don’t know whether to play, ‘Hail to the Chief,” or ‘You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.’”

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 273)


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  • Robert Orbin was the Presidential speech writer for Gerald Ford. Sometimes Ford muffed the lines Orben had written.

  • So Orben attached a 3 X 5 card on the inside cover of Ford’s speech binder, reading, “I told my wife I knew this speech backwards, and that’s how I’m delivering it.”

  • This became one of Ford’s most successful lines, and sometimes he bungled speeches so that he could use it.

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 232)


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Mike Huckabee and Religious Signifying

  • National Public Radio noted that Huckabee was using many veiled references from the Bible to appeal to his conservative base.

  • However, when this conservative base was questioned by NPR, only one of all of those polled was able to get all of the references correct.


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  • When Huckabee was told that it was almost a statistical impossibility that he could get the Republican nomination, he replied…

  • I didn’t major in math. “I majored in miracles.”

  • (National Public Radio 2/10/2008)


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  • Many of Kennedy’s critics felt that he had an unfair advantage because of his family’s wealth.

  • So during one speech, he pulled a fake telegram from his father saying, “Don’t buy one vote more than necessary. I’ll be damned if I’ll pay for a landslide.”

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 232)


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John McCain

  • In an attempt to inject humor into the presidential race, John McCain ran a campaign ad mocking Barack Obama’s celebrity status by comparing him with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.

  • Then he picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, who appeared on Saturday Night Live as something of a celebrity.


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  • Mike Peters gained national attention with a cartoon showing

    • George Washingon saying, “I cannot tell a lie,”

    • Richard Nixon saying, “I cannot tell the truth.”

    • and Jimmy Carter saying, “I cannot tell the difference.”

    • (Nilsen & Nilsen 233)


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Barack Obama

  • “I have a dream.” Just words?

  • “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Just words?

  • “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Just words? Just speeches?

  • This was in response to Hillary Clinton’s claim that Obama was all words and no substance.

  • Obama failed to attribute the above words to Deval Patrick, who had used similar wording in one of his speeches (Chicago Tribune, Feb 19, 2008, p. A4).


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Sarah Palin

  • Sarah Palin’s children are named Bristol, Willow, Piper, Track and Twig.

  • Bristol and Willow are cities in Alaska, and Piper is the name of the Alaskan airline because they fly Piper Cub aircraft.

  • Willow, Track and Twig are hippy names. They’re all pleasant aspects of nature.


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Tina Fey and Sarah Palin:Which is which?


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  • “Palilntology” is the interest in everything related to Sarah Palin

    • Including her talking to Joe Sixpack,

    • And Palin signs saying “Go girl!”

    • And Sarah asking, “What’s the difference between a pit bull and a hockey mom?” and then answering, “Lipstick.”

    • And the Tina Fey skit,

    • And Sarah Palin’s appearance on Saturday Night Live


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  • Politicians are good at turning a negative into a positive, and President Reagan was old.

  • At a Gridiron Club dinner, he noted that the club had been founded in 1885, and quipped that he felt bad at not being invited to the first dinner. “It seemed like only yesterday.”

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 232)


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  • One of Reagan’s best quips came during a televised debate against Walter Mondale.

  • With a twinkle in his eye, Reagan said, that age should not be an issue, and then he added,

  • “I will not exploit, for political purposes, the youth and inexperience of my opponent.” (Nilsen & Nilsen 232)


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  • In 1981 President Reagan was shot by John Hinckley and was taken into the operating room of a nearby hospital for treatment.

  • Reagan quipped, “Please assure me that you are all Republicans.”

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 234)


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  • Mark Russell started doing his satirical political songs in Washington DC during the 1980s

  • In the 1990s, his television specials were among the most popular on the Public Broadcasting System

  • Russell considers himself to be a “political cartoonist for the blind.”

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 231)


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  • Commenting on Stevenson’s astuteness and knowledge, one person said, “Every thinking American will vote for you.”

  • Stevenson replied, “That won’t be enough.”

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 233)


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Samuel Joe Wurzelbacher

  • Samuel Joe Wurzelbacher is better known as Joe, the Plumber, but

    • his name isn’t really Joe,

    • And he isn’t a plumber; he’s an entrepreneur who doesn’t have a plumber’s license.

    • Barack Obama asks, “How many plumbers do you know who make more than $250,000 a year?”


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  • At the Democratic National Convention in August of 2008, Janet Napolitano, the Democratic Governor of Arizona, said:

    • Barry Goldwater ran for President and he lost.

    • Morris Udall ran for President and he lost.

    • Bruce Babbitt ran for President and he lost.

    • I hope that this is an Arizona tradition that will continue (John McCain was running for President)


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Another Analogy

  • At the Democratic National Convention in August of 2008, Hillary Clinton said that John McCain and George W. Bush had the same policies…

    • On the economy,

    • On supporting the oil companies,

    • On supporting big business,

    • On the war in Iraq.

  • She added that it’s appropriate that the Republican National Convention would be held in the Twin Cities. We can’t tell them apart either.


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Call and Response

  • During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama used call-and-response, preacher cadences, and other rhetorical devices that are frequently used in Black churches.

  • However, Hillary Clinton was criticized for using an Arkansas dialect and preacher cadences in her campaign speeches.


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Color Symbolism

  • On The Daily Show, John Stewart noted that both the Democratic and the Republican parties have factions and infighting.

  • He proposed that not only do we have red states and blue states, but we also have navy-blue and periwinkle states.


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  • In January of 2008, the American Name Society chose “Betraeus” as the Name of the year.

  • This was based on the fact that http://www.moveon.org had renamed General Petraeus as General Betraeus.

  • Ironically, Rush Limbaugh had earlier used the same term to refer to Democrats who did not support the War in Iraq.


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New Washington Catch Phrase

  • In the senate hearing of Roger Clements and drug abuse, an emerging expression is “It is what it is.”

  • This is a common phrase in the sports community and also in various political spheres.

  • The term is dismissive, and it is a “stopper.”

  • It continues the tradition of the earlier “Just forget about it,” “Don’t go there,” and “Whatever.”


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Political Correctness

  • Mike Huckabee has said that if he became President, he would seek to have a constitutional ammendment to have America declared as “a Christian nation.”

  • In contrast, the politically correct people are suggesting that instead of saying Merry Christmas” we should say “Happy Holidays.”

  • In January of 2008, the American Dialect Society selected “Happy Kwanhanamas!” as the “most unnecessary word of 2007.” It is a blend of Happy Kwanza, Happy Hanukka, and Happy Christmas.”


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  • President Reagan made a joke to an inside group about bombing Russia, but his statement was broadcast internationally.

  • Talking about Geraldine Ferraro, Vice President George Bush Bragged that “We tried to kick a little ass last night” and it made the wire service.

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 229)


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  • In his The Humorous Dictionary of Economics, Jere Moorman gives the following “cow-definitions” of political philosophies:

  • CAPITALISM: If you have two cows, you sell one and buy a bull.

  • COMMUNISM: If you have two cows, you give them to the government and the government gives you some milk.


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  • FASCISM: If you have two cows, you keep the cows and give the milk to the government and the government then sells you some of the milk.

  • NEW-DEALISM: If you have two cows, you shoot one and milk the other and then pour the milk down the drain.

  • SOCIALISM: If you have two cows, you give your neighbor one.

  • TOTALITARIANISM: If you have two cows, the government shoots you and keeps the cows.

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 233)


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  • “Liberals see conservatives as preachy, sanctimonious, and humorless.”

  • “Conservatives see nothing funny about shrill, angry, liberal losers.”

  • “Cartoonists will always be liberal leaning. It is a bias that is built into the system.”

  • (Cagle x)


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  • Conservatives believe that we should enjoy the rewards of our personal successes and suffer the consequences of our personal failures.

  • Liberals believe that people are basically stupid and need to be protected.

  • As a cartoonist, I…can’t make a living drawing cartoons about responsible people, but I can certainly make a living drawing stupid people.

  • (Cagle x)


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  • On October 1, 1974, Craig Hosmer, a Republican from California published the following in the Congressional Record

  • Democrats buy most of the books that have been banned somewhere.

  • Republicans form censorship committees and read them as a group.

  • Republicans employ exterminators.

  • Democrats step on the bugs.


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  • Democrats name their children after popular sports figures, politicians, and entertainers.

  • Republican children are named after their parents or grandparents, according to where the money is.

  • Republicans tend to keep their shades drawn, although there is seldom any reason why they should

  • Democrats ought to, but don’t.


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  • Republican boys date Democratic girls. They plan to marry Republican girls, but feel they’re entitled to a little fun first.

  • Republicans sleep in twin beds—some even in separate rooms.

  • That is why there are more Democrats.

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 233)


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  • In combat, there is a condition in which a soldier’s nervous system has been maxed out. In the First World War, this condition was called “shell shock.” Simple, honest, direct language—two syllables.


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  • During the Second World War, this same combat condition was called “battle fatigue.” Four syllables now. It takes longer to say, and “fatigue” is a nicer word than “shock.”

  • During the Korean War, Madison Avenue was riding high, and this same battle condition was now called “Operational Exhaustion.” We’re up to eight syllables now, and the humanity has been squeezed out completely. It’s totally sterile now.


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  • Then came the War in Vietnam, so the word became “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” It’s still eight syllables, but now we’ve added a hyphen, and the pain is completely buried under the jargon.

  • (Dahdal 5-6)


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  • Canadian journalists who didn’t support the war called it “the war on Iraq.”

  • Australian journalists who supported the war called it “the war in Iraq.”

  • American journalists who supported the war even more called it “the war of Operation Enduring Freedom.”

  • Al Jazeera called it an “invasion and occupation of Iraq.”

  • (Hudson-Rodd 533)


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  • On October 25, 1993, Richard Zoglin wrote in Time Magazine that political correctness started out as the province of a small band of liberal reformers.

  • But it has now become an establishment orthodoxy. So…

  • “It is now p.c. to make fun of p.c.”

  • (Nilsen 228)


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  • During the 1930s many Americans were isolationists, and were strongly against any hints of anti-Nazi sentiments.

  • January 19, 1940 was almost two years before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and nine months before Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.

  • On this date, The Three Stooges released a movie entitled You Nazi Spy, which greatly influenced America’s involvement in the war.(Nilsen & Nilsen 233)


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  • John Callahan received much flack for his cartoon showing two Ku Klux Klansmen in sheets leaving a house in the middle of the night.

  • One of them is saying, “Don’t you just love it when they’re still warm from the dryer?”

  • Some said he was glorifying the Ku Klux Klan.

  • But Callahan felt he was trivializing the Klan.

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 229)


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  • The phrase “Shock and Awe” has been trademarked by the Japanese electronics giant Sony for use in computer games. Sony registered “Shock and Awe” just one day after the US and British forces started the war in Iraq. Sony planed to have a Shock and Awe PlayStation game on sale in the US, but was doubtful about shipping the game to Europe due to political sensitivities on that side of the Atlantic about the invasion of Iraq. (Dahdal 9)


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  • http://www.theonion.com/content/index


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!Tina Fey as Sarah Palin

  • Time says, “It’s hard to tell where Tina Fey ends and Sarah Palin begins…the updo, the wink, the syntax….”

  • “Where Palin’s campaign projected a smart, tough, folksy reformer, Fey showed a posing, in-over-her-head maverick-bot.”

  • “It is a seamless blending of reality and parody” (Time 10/20/2008, p. 29).


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!!The New Yorker

  • The New Yorker’s cover satirically depicting Obama as a flag-burning Muslim and Michelle as a gun-toting radical was seen as a joke by the subscribers.

  • But when it was seen by tens of millions of non-subscribers many didn’t see the satire.

  • Newsweek said, “You can’t erase a powerful image from someone’s mind any more than you can unring a bell.” (7/28/2008, p. 29).


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!!!What makes this satire?


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References # 1:

Baumgartner, Jody C., and Jonathan S. Morris, eds. Laughing Matters: Humor and American Politics in the Media Age. New York, NY: Routledge, 2008.

Bendix, John, and Regina Bendix. “Politics and Gender in Humor and Satire: The Cases of Elisabeth Kopp and Geraldine Ferraro.” Schweiz Z Sociol/Rev. Suisse Sociol 2 (1992): 441-460.

Benton, Gregor. “The Origins of the Political Joke.” in Powell and Paton (1988): 33-55.

Bilger, Audrey. “Laughing All the Way to the Polls: Do Female Politians Need a New Punch Line? Bitch 30 (2005): 48-53.

Boskin, Joseph, ed. The Humor Prismin 20th-Century America Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1997.


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References # 2:

Bostdorff, D. M. “Vice-Presidential Comedy and the Traditional Female Role: An Examination of the Rhetorical Characteristics of the Vice Presidency.” Western Journal of Speech Communication 55.1 (1991): 1-27.

Brooks, Charles, ed. Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year: 2005 Edition. Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2005.

Cagle, Daryl, and Brian Fairrington, eds. The Best Political Cartoons of the Year, 2006 Edition. New York, NY: Que Publishing, 2006.

Cantor, Paul A. “The Simpsons: Atomistic Politics and the Nuclear Family.” Political Theory 27.6 (1999): 734-749.

Chapel, Gage William. “Humor in the White House: And [sic] Interview with Presidential Speechwriter Robert Orben.” Communication Quarterly 26 (1978): 44-49.

Dahdal, Sylvia H. “Defending the Indefensible: Words of War or War of Words?” Tempe, AZ: ASU LIN 515 Paper, April 18, 2006.

Dahlberg, W. A. “Lincoln, the Wit.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 31 (1945): 424-427.


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References # 3:

Davies, Christie. “Humour and Protest: Jokes under Communism.” International Review of Social History 52 (2007): 291-305.

Davis, Murray S. What’s So Funny: The Comic Conception of Culture and Society Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Edwards, Janis L., and Huey-Rong Chen. “The First Lady/First Wife in Editorial Cartoons: Rhetorical Visions through gendered Lenses.” Women’s Studies in Communication 23 (2000): 367-391.

Feldman, Ofer. “Non-Oratorical Discourse and Political Humor in Japan.” in Beyond Public Speech and Sombols. Ed. Christ’l De Landts-heer and Ofer Feldman. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000, 165-191.

Ganter, Granville. “He Made Us Laugh Some: Frederick Douglass’s Humor.” African American Review 37.4 (2003): 535-552.


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References # 4:

Gardner, Gerald. Campaign Comedy: Political Humor from Clinton to Kennedy Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1994.

Gardner, Gerald. The Mocking of the President: A History of Campaign Humor from Ike to Ronnie Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1988.

Henning, Charles. The Wit and Wisdom of Politics Golden, Co: Fulcrum, 1989.

Holloway, D. “The Morning after Consumption.” Dogsbody: An Online Review of Comics. May 6, 2004.

Hudson-Rodd, Nancy, and Sundar Ramanathaiyer. “Cartooning the Iraq War: No Laughing Matter.” International Journal of Comic Art 8.1 (2006): 532-545.


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References # 4:

Kuipers, Giselinde. “Where was King Kong When We Needed Him? Public Discourse, Digital Disaster Jokes, and the Functions of Laughter after 9/11.” Journal of American Culture 28.1 (2005): 70-84.

Lakoff, George. Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004.

Lockyer, Sharon, and Michael Pickering, eds. Beyond a Joke: The Limits of Humour. London, England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Lewis, Paul. “Debate: Humor and Political Correctness.” HUMOR: International Journal of Humor Research 10.4 (1997): 453-513.

Lewis, Paul. “The Muhammad Cartoons and Humor Research: A Collection of Essays.” HUMOR: International Journal of Humor Research 21.1 (2008): 1-46.


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References # 5:

Mascha, Efharis. “Political Satire and Hegemony: A Case of ‘Passive Revolution’ During Mussolini’s Ascendance to Power 1919-1925.” HUMOR 21.1 (2008): 69-98.

Meyer, John. “Ronald Reagan and Humor: A Politician’s Velvet Weapon.” Communication Studies 41 (1990): 76-88.

Moore, Mark P. “‘The Quayle Quagmire”: Political Campaigns in the Poetic Form of Burlesque.” Western Journal of Communication 56 (1992): 108-124.

Moormon, Gere. The Humorous Dictionary of Economics, 1983.

Morreall, John. “Humor and the Conduct of Politics.” in Lockyer and Pickering (2005): 63-78.

Morrison, Krystina. “The Television Sit Com.” Unpublished ENG 414 Paper. Tempe, AZ: ASU, April, 1009.

Nilsen, Alleen Pace, and Don L. F. Nilsen. Encyclopedia of 20th-Century American Humor. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000.


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References # 6:

Oring, Elliott. Jokes and Their Relations Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1992.

Paletz, David L. “Political Humor and Authority: From Support to Subversion.” International Political Science Review 11.4 (1990): 483-493.

Powell, Chris, and George Paton, eds. Humour in Society: Resistance and Control. Basingstoke, England: MacMillan, 1988.

Powell, Chris, George Paton, and Stephen Wagg, eds. The Social Faces of Humour: Practices and Issues. Aldershot, England: Arena, 1996.


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References # 7:

Speier, Hans. “Wit and Politics: An Essay on Laughter and Power.” The American Journal of Sociology. 103.5 (1998): 1352-1401.

Stein, Mary Beth. “The Politics of Humor: The Berlin Wall in Jokes and Graffiti.” Western Folklore 48.2 (1989): 85-108.

Stokker, Kathleen. Folklore Fights the Nazis: Humor in Occupied Norway 1940-1945. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995.

Terry, Robert W. Authentic Leadership: Courage in Action San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1993.

Thelen, Jenna. “Humor in Sit Coms, etc.” Unpublished ENG 414 PowerPoint, Tempe, AZ: ASU, 2009.

Wagg, Stephen. “Everything Else is Propaganda: The Politics of Alternative Comedy.” in Powell, Paton and Wagg (1996): 297-320.


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