Edited by Villy Tsakona and Jan Chovanec
[Topics in Humor Research 7] 2018
► pp. 155–180
Chapter 7. Laughter and non-humorous situations in TV documentaries
In this paper, I explore the role of laughter in broadcast TV documentary programs. Although the primary design of many TV documentaries is to attend to the smooth transmission of information to the audience, some program formats include components of seemingly unscripted interpersonal interaction between the participants. In these interactions, we frequently find situations that evoke the participants’ laughter, even though they are not designed as humorous and may not contain any evident intentional humor. Based on data obtained from a recent British documentary series, this paper documents how laughter emerges within interactions between the presenter and other interlocutors in order to deal with situations of personal failure and success arising from joint collaborative effort. The paper argues that laughter indexes extreme emotional reactions, thus being indicative of an underlying incongruity between the participants’ expectations and the actual state. Moreover its presence in the program attests to the hybrid nature of modern documentary formats by actually priming the audience’s positive reception and enjoyment of the broadcast.