A Comparison of Malaysian Ethnic and Political Stand-up Comedies’ Text Structures and Use of Politeness Strategies

Chan Teik Onn


This paper attempts to investigate and compare the text structures of ethnic and political Malaysian stand-up comedies and their use of politeness strategies to mitigate backlash. To this end, a mixed method approach was adopted where the structural properties were tabulated to determine the dominant structural patterns of the stand-up comedies. Additionally, a content analysis was used to examine the different politeness strategies used in both types of stand-up comedies. A sample of 17 ethnic jokes and 13 political jokes were analyzed using Hockett’s (1960) Internal Structure of Jokes and Brown and Levinson’s (1987) Politeness Strategies as frameworks of analyses. Results on the textual structures showed that although the two types of comedies employed the standard three part structures which are build-up, pivot and punch line. Build-ups were used more in ethnic jokes than political jokes. This could be due to the nature of ethnic stand-up comedy where comedians need to specify a target stereotype to prevent generalization. In terms of politeness strategies used off record strategy was the dominant strategy in both types of jokes, although political jokes over-relied on this strategy, which is 32.33 % in ethnic jokes and 56.66% in political jokes. It was also found that ethnic jokes, had a more diverse use of politeness strategies due to its different payoffs such as to mitigate backlash by showing hesitation with discourse markers and using word choices that showed a partial understanding to the aspects of a race that they were making fun of, unlike political jokes, which focused on ambiguity so as not to directly name the political figure in their jokes. In short, findings from this paper may serve as a valuable resource for not only aspiring comedians but also public speakers in presenting social criticism without risking backlash.


Stand-Up Comedy, Ethnic Jokes, Political Jokes, Joke Structure, Politeness Strategies, Backlash

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7575/aiac.ijalel.v.7n.7p.182


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