Latino Studies Latino Humor in Comparative Perspective
Luis Loya García
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 March 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 March 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0019


The following texts will guide researchers in the exploration of the different ways in which humor has been treated and analyzed in studies incorporating US Latino perspectives, and Hispanic or Latin American approaches. The purpose is to foment dialogue about the diverse approaches to humor in time and space. It is a complex subject; exploring it, academics will be exposed to a plethora of theories, practices, understandings and misunderstandings, definitions and redefinitions, and constructions and deconstructions of humor and laughter. Academic disciplines that study humor include psychology, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, literature, performance studies, communication and media studies, linguistics, marketing, religion, sex and gender studies, and translation studies. Traditionally, approaches to humor have been split into three kinds: superiority, relief, and incongruity. The first one implies supremacy over others when we find something funny. The second suggests a release of physiological energy. The third functions as a result of incongruity: impossibility, inappropriateness, ambiguity. The different texts listed in this bibliography provide a dialogue that contributes to an understanding of the mystery and complexity of humor. At times the texts are clearly in conversation, but they will often contradict one another; they will produce more questions than they answer. The selected texts expose diverse genres as well as various aesthetics and offer a panoramic view of techniques that require an active audience capable of deciphering form and structure, complexity and simplicity. Authors present their work in their respective sociohistorical and artistic time and space; they address humor and laughter in diverse styles that play with theme, structure, and language. This assortment of works portrays the nature, complexity, distinctive expressions, and cultural differences of humor and laughter within and outside of the Latino communities. Furthermore, the work presented in this bibliography incites individuals to be critical and reflective on how they laugh and why. Readers of Latino/a studies will find comparative angles regarding humor: from Middle Age to golden-age Spain; from colonial to 20th- and 21st-century Latin America, including the Caribbean and Central America, the Southern Cone, and transnational Latin America; and in national identities, politics, gender and sexuality, and publicity. There is a special interest in US Latino/a humor; this section will continue to grow and expand in future developments of this bibliography.

General Overviews

The study of humor produces what Mexican writer J. M. García-García calls humorología/gelastología (humorology/gelastology), the field of knowledge that investigates the nature of humor (García-García 1995); it studies the essential properties, the practice, the principles, and the history of humor. Humorology is also known as gelastology (from the Greek gelos, laughter). Aristotle 1995 presents humor as a gesture of superiority observed particularly in comedy; the author also presents humor as incongruity for which surprise is requisite. Freud 1960 argues that humor releases energy generated by repression, Spencer 1860 sees laughter as a conduct that channels nervous energy, and Kant 2010 suggests that a joke needs surprise and an element of absurdity to be funny; laughter, therefore, is a reaction to incongruity. Along the same lines, Plato (Gosling 1975) suggests that aggressive feelings motivate humor. Smuts 2009 provides a panorama of theories of humor and adds play theory as an extension of animal play. Morreall 1987 explores traditional and contemporary theories of humor and reflects on mental states and ethics.

  • Aristotle. Poetics. Edited and translated by Stephen Halliwell, W. H. Fyfe, Donald A. Russell, and Doreen C. Innes. Loeb Classical Library 199. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995.

    Presents humor as a characteristic of comedy. Aristotle elaborates on the nature, history, and treaties of Greek tragedy.

  • Freud, Sigmund. Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. Translated and edited by James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1960.

    The text is divided into three parts: analytic, synthetic, and theoretical. It includes an appendix, a bibliography, abbreviations, and an index of jokes; Freud provides a synopsis of earlier theories of comedy, joking, and wit. This paradigm-shifting work offers a synopsis of jokes and examples; it explores why jokes are pleasurable and connects joke theory to dream theory. Original work published in 1905.

  • García-García, J. Manuel. La inmaculada concepción del humor: Teoría, antología y crítica del humor literario mexicano. Chihuahua, Mexico: Ediciones del Azar, 1995.

    This text is a trickster; it is influenced by Eduardo Galeano, Roland Barthes, and Julio Cortázar. It gives a panoramic view of important personalities, from José Agustín to Luis Zapata. It is a theory, anthology, and critique of literary Mexican humor.

  • Gosling, J. C. B., ed. and trans. Plato: Philebus. Clarendon Plato. Oxford: Clarendon, 1975.

    Written between 360 and 347 BCE; the text is a dialogue in which, as usual, Socrates is the main speaker. Knowledge and pleasure are the central arguments; provides a complex and dialectical dialogue of Pythagorean and mathematical concepts and ideas. Humor and laughter communicate feelings of superiority and inferiority, according to Plato.

  • Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Judgment. Translated by James Creed Meredith. Oxford: Clarendon, 2010.

    Originally published in two volumes in 1911 and 1928; the translated text became one volume without introductory matters and notes in 1952. It includes two important sections: “Critique of Aesthetic Judgment” and “Critique of Teleological Judgment.” Presents humor as a reaction to incongruity.

  • Morreall, John, ed. The Philosophy of Laughter and Humor. SUNY Series in Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987.

    The book has four sections that cover traditional views of laughter and humor, as well as contemporary theories; it explores humor and amusement in relation to mental states and ethics. The author gives a solid panorama of theories and gives a time line of important developments; it could be of great help for undergraduates.

  • Smuts, Aaron. “Humor.” In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by James Fieser and Bradley Dowden. 2009.

    Explains the evolution and different theories of humor in time and space; gives an overview of the most important scholars that have addressed humor and laughter in history. The author maps out tendencies and adds “Play Theory” to the conversation.

  • Spencer, Herbert. “The Physiology of Laughter.” Macmillan Magazine, March 1860, 395–402.

    The article explores, from a physiological and psychological perspective, the causes and consequences of laughter, and the state of consciousness of individuals who laugh.

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