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What jokes about entrepreneurs tell us about how humour may shape and de-legitimise public perceptions of entrepreneurial identity

Robert Smith (Independent Scholar, Aberdeen, UK)
Lorraine Warren (Independent Scholar, Southampton, UK)

International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research

ISSN: 1355-2554

Article publication date: 24 February 2021

Issue publication date: 27 May 2021




Humour and, in particular, jokes have received little serious academic scrutiny in the entrepreneurship literature to date. To address this, the purpose of this paper is to examine publicly available jokes about entrepreneurs to establish what such jokes tell us about how humour, particularly entrepreneur jokes shapes public perceptions of entrepreneurial identity. This is important because humour may be an integral part of an individual's entrepreneurial identity. The authors thus contribute to understandings of the complex nature of entrepreneurial identity and how public perceptions of humour influence such by encapsulating negative public perception of entrepreneurs which may act as a de-legitimisation mechanism.


From a representative sample of entrepreneur jokes located on the web using netnographic techniques, the authors apply a multi-disciplinary framework to analyse the material and its messages to establish how such jokes shape public perceptions.


The findings suggest that jokes convey a pejorative message about how entrepreneurs are perceived by the public with the content and message of the jokes being negative and derogatory. Common themes contained in the punchlines include – criminality, greed, dishonesty, hubris, stupidity, misfortune, ridicule and deviousness – all of which may de-legitimise generic entrepreneurial identity. In the process, the authors uncovered liminal aspects of joke telling and consumption in that the perception of jokes about entrepreneurs relate to the time and context in which the joke is told given that situational cleverness is a key facet of such jokes. In addition, the authors discuss variations across jokes.

Research limitations/implications

The authors discuss learning outcomes for future research and potential future studies into humour in an entrepreneurial context.


This study places humour and joking on the research stage, making an incremental contribution. The authors add to the literature on the use of entrepreneurial humour and in particular in relation to how jokes influence public perception of entrepreneurs. From the data collected, the authors develop some fresh insights into the variation and range of entrepreneurship related jokes accessible online.



Smith, R. and Warren, L. (2021), "What jokes about entrepreneurs tell us about how humour may shape and de-legitimise public perceptions of entrepreneurial identity", International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, Vol. 27 No. 4, pp. 1011-1032.



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