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Subject:

Re: Standup Comedy and 'Otherness'

From:

"Dr. Alexander Brock" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Mon, 14 Sep 1998 12:25:00 +0200

Content-Type:

text/plain

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text/plain (32 lines)

Dear Alicia Dattner,

>I've observed a sharp contradiction in standup comedy (and humor
>in general).  It purports to challenge authority, injustice, status quo,
>etc, yet the majority of comedy is produced by heterosexual white males,
>who are in effect reinscribing the power they say they're fighting.

> it is difficult for us to 'sell' an act that is unconventional, absurdist, fringe, >etc.  (for
>example, how many female comics do you see who are like Andy Kaufman?).

This is just an idea: Maybe the whole thing has to do with something like 'otherness overload'. If audiences still favour heterosexual white male comedians, then a non-heterosexual, non-white non-male comdedian will - as you say - be 'marked', and that in itself causes them difficulty processing. 
   If this comedian incorprates her 'otherness' into her act (as Victoria Wood does when she talks about weight-problems in a way a male comedian wouln't), she will give the audience an opportunity to 'digest' this 'otherness' and handle it, along the lines of "she is different, but that's part of the act, so it's o.k." This is not very nice, as it suggests that you can only be a successful 'other' comedian if you justify the 'otherness' through your performance. Yet it is not quite as negative as Jack Napier suggests in writing about "elaborate self put-downs", because justifying yourself is still better than putting yourself down.
   If, on the other hand, said comedian just happens to differ from people's expectation without justifying herself, and goes straight into a daring, novel comedy routine, the audience will have to deal with 'double otherness', and - if not their perceptive capacities - their tolerance may break down.
   This idea may be supported by aggression theory: Some researchers think that confronting an audience with difficult (i.e. unconventional, absurdist, fringe) humor is a potentially aggressive act in itself, irrespective of other kinds of aggression the routine may contain.
Maybe audiences simply resent communicative aggression coming from 'other' comedians, like: "I'm not having a woman giving me this hard stuff!", whereas they accept this aggression from white male comedians.

Yours,

Alexander Brock



Dr. Alexander Brock
Universität Leipzig
Institut für Anglistik
04109 Leipzig
Germany



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