The central aim of this paper is to apply the General Theory of Verbal Humor (henceforth GTVH; Attardo 2001) to conversational narratives and to integrate it with sociopragmatic approaches. We consider script opposition as a necessary prerequisite for humor and its perlocutionary effect (i.e. eliciting laughter) as a secondary criterion for the characterization of a narrative as humorous. Despite the fact that one of the most common social functions of humor is the construction of solidarity and in-group identity, there is relatively little sociolinguistic research on this issue. Thus, a more particular aim of this paper is to illustrate how humor can be a flexible discourse strategy to construct particular aspects of social identities by focusing on a particular aspect of humor encoded in GTVH terms as the knowledge resource of “target”. It will be shown that, in our conversational data coming from a cohesive group of young Greek males, interlocutors select targets either outside or inside their group and that, while in the first case humor criticizes the “other” behavior, in the latter case it serves as a correction mechanism of in-group behavior in a rather covert manner. In both cases, the target of humor reinforces the already existing bonds among group members, while bringing the evaluative dimension of humor to the surface. It is therefore suggested that the target of humor is an important heuristic tool for describing its social function, revealing how it is exploited by conversationalists to project their shared beliefs and values, i.e. their social identity.
Walter de Gruyter