Back to contents
Number 14: Summer 2019

Beyond the Banana Skin Review: Lacan, Psychoanalysis, and Comedy, Edited by Patricia Gherovici and Manya Steinkoler, Cambridge University Press 2016 ISBN 978-1-107-08617-3

Nic Bayley

I remember having a lot of fun reading The Comedians by Trevor Griffiths with a group of sixth formers before I had read psychoanalysis or any of the theory that underpins this book. (The play is referenced several times in Lacan, Psychoanalysis, and Comedy) It was infectiously funny in its first Act but we found ourselves becoming deflated and depressed by the end.  Thinking about jokes isn’t much of a laugh. And when I was training as a psychodynamic counsellor, more than twenty years ago, we were firmly told that anything funny in a session should be analysed rather than colluded with. So, my own paradigm shift happened as a trainee at the Site more than a decade ago when my supervisor suggested that I should hope that one day my patient – who cried a lot – would laugh. ‘Why would she laugh?’ I asked. ‘I don’t know’, said my supervisor, ‘but it can’t all be tragedy, can it?’ A few weeks later the patient actually told me something funny that had happened, and she did laugh.

Many at The Site will not need converting to the banana skin, having read Roustang long ago and knowing that it is not only patients who need to be helped to laugh. We have suspected for a while that Freud’s slim volume of 1905 may be as important as the fat one of 1900. This book focuses the several different perspectives of humour from philosophical and literature studies into a psychoanalytic frame, albeit a rather relentlessly Lacanian one. What perhaps is fascinating in some patients is the way they hover like a Beckett scene between the comic and the tragic, or in others the way their repetitive gallows humour is so like Joyce (as two chapters point out). In the short laugh, Gherovici and Steinkoler remind us, is the contemporary psychoanalytic approach to (or, following Fink, against) understanding. Laughter may take the place of the latent content and the interpretation. Or of the cut. Gherovici thinks she may have helped her female patient to laugh, Critchley likens the repetition of Prince’s jokes to a sticking in the throat akin to an unheimlichmanoeuvre. I liken the joke, humour, laughter, comedy in the consulting room to Freud’s mycelium, and to those silences which can fall in a session.