Graduation Year

Spring 2013

Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Wei-Chin Hwang

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2013 Ralph S. Martin


The goal of this thesis is to explain the nature of ethnic humor in American society. This will be achieved through three different processes. First, this thesis will explain the history of African American humor and recount it’s development into it’s own brand of comedy. Second, it will explain the nature of African American humor and how it is a tool used to revolt against the oppressive and hegemonic nature of western society. Additionally, this paper aims to prove that African American humor is a coping mechanism for African Americans. This thesis will also discuss the duality of African American humor as both comedy and social critique. Another aspect this work will explore is how comedians deal with unintended stereotype perpetuation and also how different audiences respond to the racial jokes of the comedians. Finally, this thesis will outline how to better present jokes so that the perpetuation of racism and stereotypes does not happen.

As a coping mechanism, African American humor takes stereotypes about African Americans, both positive and negative, and converts them into humorous topics that can make the stereotypes positive (Daube, 2010). This play on stereotypes, although it can be incredibly funny and also makes for great social commentary, is also very dangerous (Apte, 1987). Without proper context and understanding of the joke, it is possible that the intended social critique is not conveyed to the audience and instead the humor unintentionally perpetuates negative stereotypes. The value of African American humor as both entertainment and a coping mechanism is immeasurable (Cater, May, & Bird, 2012)

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.