Mad rant or “taking the piss?”: A case study of when attempts at humour go wrong
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In 2010, Brother a well-known local identity living on a busy street corner in Wellington, told court appointed psychiatrists he boogied with the dead and was enjoying life in 1984. Though academic writing on the homeless experience unanimously proposes that street life existence is essentially ‘no laughing matter’, and while Brother’s talk could be dismissed as the ramblings of a mad man, here I argue that his banter can be understood as displaying an acute sense of underdog humour (Coser 1959). Drawing from participant observational research spanning a three-year period and forming the empirical component of my doctoral work, I examine humour as a “quintessentially social phenomenon” (Kuipers 2008: 361) that is often particular to a specific time and place. Speaking to broader themes of sociality, spatiality, embodiment, domination and resistance, I reveal how humour is used by Brother to manage a life lived in public. I also consider how Brother’s jovial talk and actions disrupt mundane understandings of ‘normal’ boundaries. In arguing “agency and structure” collide in the case of Brother, I look at how this evokes a simultaneous “making, remaking, and unmaking” of the person (Hacking 2004).
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