Laughter has had a checkered history in Western culture, contested in ways that intersect with lines of gender, class, and power. The early modern period transformed all areas of society, raising new questions and new fields of play for laughter. Because laughter and its close partner humor cannot be pinned down to explicit meanings, they could play with the ordinary rules of social engagement. Personal narratives from the Renaissance to the eighteenth century show multiple and shifting uses of laughter, inflected by the dynamics of gender and social power. With new efforts to civilize laughter and the growth of a commercial market for laugh-inducing products, laughter’s stock rose in social valuation, while it retained its complex functions in everyday encounters.