Every Joke Is a Tiny Revolution

George Orwell? Jan Kalina? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A joke which ridicules an oppressive institution can help to undermine it. George Orwell once wrote about the subversive capabilities of humor and stated that a trenchant quip was analogous to a “tiny revolution”. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1945 George Orwell published an essay titled “Funny, But Not Vulgar” in the “Leader Magazine” of London. He contended that English humorists who were popular at that time were too genteel and kindhearted to create the jokes with a sting that he preferred. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A thing is funny when—in some way that is not actually offensive or frightening—it upsets the established order. Every joke is a tiny revolution. If you had to define humour in a single phrase, you might define it as dignity sitting on a tin-tack. Whatever destroys dignity, and brings down the mighty from their seats, preferably with a bump, is funny. And the bigger the fall, the bigger the joke.

The passage above is from the text reprinted in volume three of “George Orwell: The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Every Joke Is a Tiny Revolution


  1. 2000 (1968 Copyright), George Orwell: The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, Volume 3: As I Please 1943-1946, Edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, Essay: Funny, But Not Vulgar, Citation note located at end of essay: “Written [December 1944]; Leader, 28 July 1945”, Start Page 283, Quote Page 284, Nonpareil Book: David R. Godine, Jaffrey, New Hampshire. (Verified with scans)