Release Theory


‘The release theory sees jokes as a sort of pressure valve: a socially sanctioned way of letting out taboo thoughts and feelings. Like the superiority theory it assumes that the joke is an aggressive social act, but crucially that it is also a subversive act, a rebellion against the constraints of rational adult behaviour.

It can be a useful way to understand people’s penchant for off-colour jokes, and the frequency with which humour is used to mask hostility or fear. It’s also a good way to explain the popularity of comedy clubs, where people go to ‘let off steam’ by laughing. […]

The pleasure that we get from telling a joke, or from laughing at it, comes from satisfying some element of our libido that we can’t openly reveal, because our society forbids us to do so. […] Every joke that really makes you laugh, according to this reading, is either an act of veiled sexual aggression or a cry for help, stemming from some childhood sexual trauma. On a brighter note, the very act of telling a joke is a sort of pressure valve that relieves some of the build-up libidinal steam we’re all repressing.’

– Carr J., Greeves L. 2006. The Naked Jape – Uncovering The Hidden World Of Jokes London, Great Britain: Penguin Books (2007) p. 95-97

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