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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton September 1, 2008

Send in the clowns: The role of the joker in three New Zealand IT companies

  • Barbara Plester and Mark Orams
From the journal HUMOR


Since mediaeval times the joker, jester, fool, or clown has been a privileged individual able to comment upon social structure, and parody rules, and authority while remaining immune from repercussions. Similar functions are fulfilled by their modern counterparts, and a study of workplace humor functions revealed the existence of jokers who created and instigated many of the humor ‘events’ in the studied companies. The joker expresses alternative possibilities and can question authority without subverting it. Although not officially appointed to the role, the modern organizational joker negotiates within his workgroup in order to assume this social position. The role evolves through the joker's involvement and participation in a community of practice using shared history and practices. The jokers were considered to be important organizational members by both their peers and managers, and their joking skills were highly valued.

Although instances of humor are often multifunctional, the jokers use humor to fulfill some key functions in their workplaces. Four key functions of the jokers were identified and discussed and form the focus of this paper: challenging management; pushing the boundaries; developing the culture; and providing relief. The functions are explored using the community of practice framework (Wenger 1998) and also drawing on both organizational and humor literature.

Correspondence address:

Published Online: 2008-09-01
Published in Print: 2008-August

© 2008 by Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, D-10785 Berlin

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