As I prepare for my upcoming comedy show, “Weighty Confessions of an Obesity Guru” at the 33rd Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival, I am swamped with media interest in the notion of someone doing comedy on obesity.
Obviously, anyone who knows me or has been to one of my shows knows that I do not make “fat jokes” – or jokes about fat people.
This may be surprising to many in the comedy industry, as there is no shortage of comedians who think fat jokes are funny – and they apparently have the audiences that agree.
So, one may ask, who are these people who laugh at fat jokes?
This question was recently studied by Jacob Burmeister and Robert Carels in an article published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture.
The researchers examined the responses of 500 individuals who viewed 7 video clips from popular film and TV programs featuring weight-related humor.
Participants were asked to rate each clip on a number of dimensions including funniness and offensiveness.
They also completed measures of attitudes and beliefs toward obesity including dislike for obese persons, belief in the controllability of body weight, and a belief in stereotypes about obese persons.
As the researchers (and most of us would have predicted), the greater the participants’ dislike for obese persons and their belief in disparaging stereotypes about obesity, the funnier they thought the jokes were.
Similarly, the more the participants believed in disparaging stereotypes about obesity and that obesity is controllable, the less likely they were to consider weight-related humor distasteful.
While none of this is surprising, these finding do align nicely with disparagement humor theory.
Thus, the widespread use of weight-related humor is nothing else than a direct reflection of the widespread misconceptions and stereotypic beliefs about obesity that feed weight bias and discrimination.
These are exactly the issues that I aim to address in my show – perhaps it is now time to laugh about people who laugh at fat jokes.