Politicians are not noted for their stand-up comedy routines, but there was plenty of good humour at David Cameron’s last Prime Minister’s questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday. Many of the jokes were scripted and some fell a little flat as members struggled with their delivery. However the sense of occasions and the fact that it was the politicians delivering the jokes, at their own expense in some cases, meant that there were some genuinely funny moments worthy of Mock the Week or Have I Got News For You.

Incongruity

Much of humour works on incongruity. A comedian sets up a situation and then through the punch line revels an incongruity. Here Jeremy Corbyn sets up a situation regarding ‘unscrupulous bosses’. This has relevance due to the comments on this subject made recently by the Home Secretary, Theresa May (soon to be Prime Minister), who was sitting besides David Cameron.

JC: the home secretary (.) 
    the home secretary mister speaker
    er was talking of the economy
    the home secretary again
    she said (.) many people (.) find themselves
    exploited by unscrupulous bosses (.)
    I can’t [imagine who she was referring to
Chamber:    [((cheers and laughter))

External link to clip

Corbyn reveals an incongruity in the punch line ‘I can’t imagine who she was referring to’. The resolution of this incongruity comes as members realise that David Cameron has been Theresa May’s boss during the past few years and the suggestion that he might be ‘unscrupulous’.  The theory of humour is that laughter comes about due to the resolution of this incongruity in our minds, as we realise that situation A could actually refer to situation B, although members were quick on the uptake and had started to laugh even before the punch line was finished. Even David Cameron and Theresa May couldn’t help but smile.

Intertextuality

Humour is often enhanced through intertextuality when comments make reference to events and utterances that have happened in the past that are relevant to the audience. For example at 12:15 when Corbyn referred back to Cameron’s jibe from his mother about doing up his tie. Or at 12:36 when Cameron referred back to his comment ‘you were the future once’ to Tony Blair. It seems that we laugh louder when we reveal connections with our past.

Cameron’s attempt at an American accent at 12:19 should perhaps have been avoided however. The hosts of Mock the Week or Have I Got News For You should not be worried about their jobs!


You can listen to David Cameron’s final PMQs from the beginning here (or on the BBC iPlayer). Here are a list of jokes and jibes to look out for with approximate timings.

  • 12:00 First question (Danny Kinahan): suggestion of jobs for PM, England manager, top gear presenter?
  • 12:07 DC: on issue of female prime minister ‘it’s 2-0’
  • 12:09 DC: Labour still getting round to writing the rules
  • 12:10 JC: unscrupulous bosses
  • 12:12 DC: the black knight, keep going it’s only a flesh wound
  • 12:14 letter from July, what on earth happens next
  • 12:15 JC: thanks to mum for advice on tie, I’m reflecting on advice he offered
  • 12:16 Question: slip into role at strictly, is that his next career?
  • 12:17 DC: I do love Larry the cat, shows picture
  • 12:19 DC: imitates an American accent, hey prime ministers question, I like your show
  • 12:23 DC: a Scotsman winning Wimbledon twice while I was prime minister, never mind indie two, I think it’s time for Andy two
  • 12:25 Jeff Smith: promising to keep triple a rating, end NHS reforms, keep us in Europe, how would he say that has gone?
  • 12:28 DC: I’ll look carefully this afternoon
  • 12:35 DC: on Ken Clark
  • 12:36 DC: I was the future once

PMQs 13th July 2016
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