Panel > Stand-Up Comedy

SATURDAY, 2:00 – 3:30 PM
OCTOBER 17 2015


PANEL CHAIR: Desirée de Jesus

“Hands Together, Worlds Apart: Social Fandom and The Imbrication of Politics and Comedy”

Sky Hirschkron (MA, University of Southern California)

This paper examines the relationship between contemporary women comedians and their fans. With reference to Alison Stevenson, whose writing boldly confronts and satirizes conceptions of femininity, Cameron Esposito, whose curated podcast Put Your Hands Together evinces a diverse array of feminist voices, and others of comparable stature, the paper explores how these comics have internalized fan dialogue and shown increasingly active resistance to culturally imposed restrictions, with particular emphasis on queer and feminist issues. To explore these developments, the paper analyzes social media, especially Tumblr and Twitter, as well as columns and newswire articles on comedy and pop culture websites like Laughspin and their attendant comment sections. The paper will analyze factors including fans’ work to support as well as critique and refine the work of women comedians; fan discussion of the institutions, individuals and concepts alternately targeted and supported by this comedy; how female fandom differs from male fandom in evaluating work concerning specifically feminist issues; the differing engagement of fans for podcasts, YouTube videos and live shows; and comedy’s self-conscious acknowledgment of the cultural makeup of fans and comedy as profitable media industry. How do women comedians produce fandoms, and how does this fandom contribute to female comedy as a profitable media industry? This paper posits that fan culture itself has fundamentally transformed the style and content of modern women comedians.

“Is This A Joke?”

Caroline Künzle (Artist and independent researcher)

> How does one sensitize others to the violence that words and images can commit, however playfully they may be delivered? How does one inspire new allies to join a project of peaceful and conciliatory dialogue? Can jokes, with their incongruous and sometimes ambiguous logic do this important healing work?

Stand up comedy is a site sometimes used by individuals to reveal their subject position in intercultural relations. Comics may either get a laugh by reperforming cultural clichés and stereotypes or they may use jokes to tell their audience about moments of prejudice and racism they have experienced or witnessed in their lives.

Though humour can act as a form of subversion or alternative truth-telling, it also has the capacity to remain highly ambivalent in its intention, particularly when it is used to describe ethnic relations. To navigate through this ambivalence, it can be useful to imagine the stand-up comic as a kind of contemporary Trickster figure, keeping in mind, that in mythology, the Trickster is bound by appetite. The spirit of survival catalyzes his/her creative cunning. The Trickster intelligence arises from the tensions inherent between predators and prey, because behind the Trickster’s tricks lies a desire to eat and not be eaten. When hearing jokes which speak of ethnicity, let us keep this notion of survival in mind. The words in a joke, though possibly delivered in a teasing or absurd tone, describe the violence of the class and race hierarchy of the society around us: Who’s telling the joke? Who’s not? Who’s laughing? Who’s not?

The video installation Is This a Joke? was enacted as an experiment through which to discover what would happen if the same “ethnic” joke was told by different speakers. In this presentation, I will speak about this work, what it led me to discover and in what direction it is leading me next.

“Making a Spectacle: Grotesque Women in Sketch Comedy”

Lindsey Rogers (PhD candidate, Queen’s University)

> Russo defines the grotesque form as: “open, protruding, extended, secreting body, the body of becoming, process, and change.” (Russo, 62-3) In her popular sketch comedy show, Inside Amy Schumer, Amy Schumer regularly plays with femininity and the grotesque. In one sketch, Schumer accepts vomiting blood as a side effect of the treatment required to have a desirable ass. In a similarly themed act, Schumer finds out that the character she’ll be voicing in a new animated film (a gig she perceives to indicate her fame and desirability as a performer) is a meerkat with exposed and pronounced gentalia who vomits and shits with abandon. The other characters are stereotypically beautiful: smooth voices, slender bodies with large breasts. Within these sketches, Schumer questions the criteria of desirability and juxtaposes the desirable female form with the grotesque.

This paper will consider the following: How does displaying these grotesque figures transgress conventional standards of desirability? Are they called in to question, or temporarily, and uneasily (through laughter) dispensed with? What are the limitations of comedy as a transgressive practice; how effectively does comedy subvert (or reify) the lens through which grotesque bodies are understood?  Although it marks the beginning of a conversation about women’s bodies that is palatable to the public, is it a generative, possibility opening conversation?