Marshall McLuhan’s Use of Jokes and Humour


Jokes are grievances. - Marshall McLuhan

Jokes Are Based on Grievances

“Today young people are in the habit of saying, ‘Humor is not cool'”. The old fashioned joke with its story line has given way to conundrum, e.g.: ‘What is purple and hums?’ Answer: ‘An electric grape.’ ‘Why does it hum?’ ‘Because it doesn’t know the words!’ This kind of joke is involving. It requires the participation of the hearer. The old-fashioned joke, on the other hand, permitted us to be detached, and to laugh at things. The new kind of joke is a gestalt or configuration in the style of set theory. This helps to explain a strange aspect of humor raised by Steve Allen. In his book ‘The Funny Men’, Steve Allen suggests that the funnyman is a man with a grievance.’ In Canada at present, the Quebec separatists are a people with a grievance. A whole stock of stories has come into existence in connection with their grievances. For example, there is the story of the mouse that was being chased with the cat. The mouse finally discovered a spot under the floor to hide in. After a while it heard a strange ‘Arf! Arf! Bow! Wow!’ sort of sound and realized that the house dog must have come along and chased the cat away. So the mouse popped up, and the cat grabbed it. As the cat chewed it down, the cat said, ‘You know, it pays to be bilingual!’ – Cybernetics and Human Culture (1964). In Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews (2003). p. 45.

“… a joke really requires a hidden ground of grievance, for which the joke is only a figure sitting out front.” – Man and Media (1979). In Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews (2003). p. 278.

When people become too intense, too serious, they will have trouble in relating to any sort of social game or norm. Perhaps this is why jokes are so important. On one hand they tell us about where the problems and grievances are, and, at the same time, they provide the means of enduring these grievances by laughing at the problems. - Marshall McLuhan

One-line jokes from Marshall McLuhan’s joke book, dated 1973:-

The Empire on which the sun never sets; because you can’t trust an Englishman in the dark.

Man never reads handwriting on the wall until he has his back to it.

It’ll take more than facts to convince me.

Patient: “Doc, I have a terrible ringing in my ear.” Doc: “Get an unlisted ear.”

Why do bees hum? Because they don’t know the words.

I may be crazy, but I’m not far from it.

After the performance, there wasn’t a dry seat in the house.

Boredom: rage spread thin.

New aftershave lotion to drive teenage girls wild. It smells like a telephone.

There’s no fuel like an oils fuel. [pun]

Confucius say: “He who sling mud, lose ground.”

Don’t look back – they may be gaining on you!

Zeus to Narcissus: Watch yourself!”

Model husband: Small imitation of the real thing.

Travel agency ad: PLEASE GO AWAY


Why engage in nit-picking when mud-slinging is our bag?

“What snobs they are — always trying to get acquainted with people like us!”

In the rear-view mirror, you at least see the back-seat driver!

Easy glum – easy glow!

Nobody knows the rubble I’ve seen. (S.J. Pearlman)

Familiarity breeds consensus.

A man’s home is his hassle.

An Englishman’s home is his coffin. (Joyce)

Why does a chicken cross the street? Because eggs are cheaper on the other side.

Who was that lady I saw you out with last night? That was no lady, that was my son.

Happiness is discovering that your dentist wears dentures.

4 Responses to “Marshall McLuhan’s Use of Jokes and Humour”

  1. Marshall used jokes as “probes,” as devices to heighten awareness. I know of no human being who was more inventive, who tried more creative ways to get people to pay attention to what was going on around them. People who don’t get that fuss a lot about how difficult he is to read. He is not difficult if one realizes that he is more interested in the questions than in the answers. It’s really very simple. Imagine what would happen if we gave students the answers and asked them to figure out the questions. It would revolutionize schooling! Wrestling with the questions is far more difficult and challenging than wrestling with the answers. But such wrestling is, in the long run, far more valuable!


  2. Thank you for your astute comment, Dr, Lumpp. And thank you for reading this blog…….AlexK


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