Audiences across Edinburgh are clutching their bellies as the world’s best (and worst) stand-ups flock to the city. But what are these guys laughing at?

Juan Muñoz, 'Towards the Corner' 1998
Juan Muñoz
Towards the Corner 1998
Wood, resin, paint and metal
object: 2100 x 3785 x 1130 mm
Purchased with assistance from Tate Members 2003© The estate of Juan Muñoz

This month, 24,000 performers across Edinburgh are performing their gags night after night. Soon, they’ll know those jokes about monkeys and melons and Scottish independence back to front. The one thing they never know is whether anyone’s going to laugh.

So what if things were the other way around? You have laughter, but you don’t know what the joke is. That’s the slightly disconcerting situation that the Spanish artist, Juan Muñoz, presents us with in Towards the Corner.

Seven men sit in front of us on their benches in total hysterics. At first, it’s pretty amusing looking at them, too. You come up with ideas: maybe they’re at a football match, or the circus, or some kind of jeering men’s gathering. Then you realise that those grinning faces are weirdly identical, and that the joke might just be you.

When Muñoz’s work was first exhibited in 1998, at a venue called Site Santa Fe in New Mexico, perhaps to increase the intimidation factor, it was displayed facing into a corner, so that the viewer approached it nervously from behind and had to walk right around it to see the men’s faces.

Last displayed as part of Tate Modern’s Juan Muñoz retrospective in 2008, these laughing monochrome Asian figures were a recurring motif in Muñoz’s work in the late 1990s. The artist said of them in an interview: ‘There is something about their appearance that makes them different, and this difference in effect excludes the spectator from the room they are occupying … The spectator becomes very much like the object to be looked at.’ (Paul Schimmel, Juan Muñoz)

And Muñoz is just one of countless artists who use humour in their work, from William Hogarth’s drunk caricatures to David Shrigley’s snakes (and if you’re up in Edinburgh, keep an eye out for Peter Liversidge’s playful installation as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival: he’s invited everyone with a flagpole to raise a ‘HELLO’ to the city. Incidentally, if you’re up there, also don’t miss Peter Doig’s beautiful landscapes at the Scottish National Gallery.)

Sure, you don’t often bellow in a gallery the way you might at the Fringe – but it’s ok if you do.

We’ll be discussing the topics of art and comedy more in the coming months as part a series of live Google+ Hangouts surrounding the Tate collection. Come back for more information on the next Hangout soon