Comic relief: subversion and catharsis in organizational comedic theatre

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Westwood, RI 2004, 'Comic relief: subversion and catharsis in organizational comedic theatre', Organization Studies, vol. 25, no. 5, pp. 775-795.

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There has been a growth of interest in the role of humour in organizations from both practitioner and academic perspectives. Various claims for the functionality of humour have been made, ranging from stress reduction to helping form and cement corporate cultures. Latching on to these presumed benefits, businesses and consultants have begun to employ humour and comedy in a direct and explicit manner. However, there is a counterpoint, which suggests that humour cannot always be managed and in fact has subversive qualities. This article addresses the issue of the subversive potential of comedy in organizational contexts. It draws illustratively on the case of a successful corporate comedian to do so. The article argues, through an analysis of the case, the history and philosophy of comedy, and theories of the comedic, that while comedy has inherent subversive potential, it most often is contained. Indeed, it suggests that comedy works by intruding as a potential threat to mundane reality, but offers comic relief when it is apparent that the threat will not be actualized and the status quo ante prevails. Implications for using corporate comedy are drawn.

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