A History of drummer jokes… #iaspm2017

Matt Brennan: University of Edinburgh

Towards a history of drummer jokes and stereotypes


Victor Joyner’s Imperial Four, 1915

ABSTRACT: This paper investigates the history of drummer jokes and stereotypes. Drummer jokes are abundant in popular music culture, and their punchlines hinge on stereotypes about drummers (I focus on seven in particular – drummers as dumb, noisy, illiterate, uncreative, male, broke, and replaceable.) This is not to say that drummers are universally perceived as low status musicians by any means. Instead, as Stephen Cottrell (2004) has suggested, “stereotypes require a certain suspension of disbelief; we persist in stereotyping even when confronted with evidence which defies or contradicts the stereotypical image created.” But musician jokes of all kinds employ humour which “also has its place in controlling behaviour, that is, it can be used to reinforce behavioural norms and values existing within a society or group; ridiculing socially inappropriate behaviour promotes social control because it emphasizes social conformity” (ibid). This paper sketches the history of drummer jokes and stereotypes and argues that drummer stereotypes are ultimately not just about drummers: we find similar stereotypes routinely attributed in wider narratives of “low culture” of all sorts. Making fun of the drum kit and drummers is therefore a useful lens to consider the historical construction of the divide between high and low culture.

Ref: Cottrell, Stephen. Professional music-making in London: ethnography and experience (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004).

Matt begins, contrarily enough, with his serious research questions – how do drummer jokes define perception of drummers, and are the jokes a cause or effect of their ‘lowly’ status. [Read more…]