Humorous complaining

A. Peter McGraw, Caleb Warren, Christina Kan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Although complaints document dissatisfaction, some are also humorous. The article introduces the concept of humorous complaining and draws on the benign violation theory—which proposes that humor arises from things that seem simultaneously wrong yet okay—to examine how being humorous helps and hinders complainers. Six studies, which use social media and online reviews as stimuli, show that humorous complaints benefit people who want to warn, entertain, and make a favorable impression on others. Further, in contrast to the belief that humor is beneficial but consistent with the benign violation theory, humor makes complaints seem more positive (by making an expression of dissatisfaction seemokay), but makes praise seem more negative (by making an expression of satisfaction seem wrong in some way). Finally, a benign violation approach perspective also reveals that complaining humorously has costs. Because being humorous suggests that a dissatisfying situation is okay, humorous complaints are less likely to elicit redress or sympathy from others than nonhumorous complaints.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1153-1171
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Consumer Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing


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