The Interview: But seriously


Published: December 2006

Paul Lewis looks beyond the laughs in this interview with Boston College Magazine editor Ben Birnbaum. The author of Cracking Up: American Humor in a Time of Conflict (Chicago, 2006) and numerous articles about the role of humor in American society and literature, Lewis believes that humor does more than make us laugh. Comedians, commentators, editorial writers, screenwriters, advertisers, doctors, and politicians, he says, “deploy humor strategically, with intentionality” to persuade us to take action, provide information or “disinformation,” cure us of our physical and spiritual maladies, and sometimes even terrify us.

His new book entertains, but as it catalogs humor’s functions, analyzes the impact of 9/11 and the Iraq war on American humor, and raises questions about the ethics of using humor for the wrong ends, it reminds us that some of what we find funny may be no laughing matter. In the December 8, 2006 International Herald Tribune Lewis cautions, “Though at its best political satire speaks truth to power, humor can also muddy thought, trivialize real problems and promote catastrophic mistakes.”

This feature was posted on Friday, December 15, 2006 and is filed under Audio.
Executive Producer: Paul Dagnello