When Humour Becomes Subversive – A Textual Analysis of the Function of Humour in the Documentary The Red Chapel

Vernisa Dedic & Anna Amalie Breusch Larsen

Student thesis: Subject Module Project


The documentary The Red Chapel from 2009 still, to this day, stirs up some sensitive issues revolving humour and ethics in documentary production. More importantly, documentary production within the lines of a totalitarian regime - a dictatorship - like North Korea. To infiltrate and portray the closed off state from the capital of Pyongyang, a Danish journalist Mads Brügger and his companions - comedians Simon Jul and Jacob Nossell - use humour as a primary working method on their stated mission to essentially “expose the very core of the evilness of North Korea”. The problem definition and thus the scope for this paper is How is humour used by the Danish troupe in the encounter with the North Korean representatives in the documentary The Red Chapel? This paper seeks to answer the problem definition by employing textual analysis as the method to analyse specific sequences of the documentary alongside with theoretical alternative approaches to humour by Simon Weaver (2011), Michael Billig (2005), Mette Møller (2013) and Sammy Basu (1998) to analyse and discuss the function and purpose of humour as a working method for the Danish troupe in The Red Chapel. The findings of our analysis conclude that humour serves multiple purposes like acting rebellious against the dictatorial regime, letting one feel superior towards the cultural ‘other’, releasing pressure from a tense social situation, preserving one’s identity and lastly uncovering the absurdities and grotesqueness of the North Korean society by showing incongruities. The implications of these findings on humour can lead to a potential ethical discussion, not least on the issue of ‘objectivity’ and whether this documentary is creating a hybrid in documentary genres.

EducationsCultural Encounter, (Bachelor/Graduate Programme) Undergraduate or graduate
Publication date19 Dec 2016
Number of pages315
SupervisorsZoran Lee Pecic


  • The Red Chapel
  • Mads Brügger
  • North Korea
  • Humour
  • Satire
  • Documentary
  • Mockumentary
  • Textual Analysis