Maybe successful comics (Pryor, Barr, Tenuta, Tomlin, Ulman, Bruce, etc.) whose signifiers don't conform to the norm are "successful" because television and film acts as a largely non-regional form of the stage. Does your question specify locale? For instance, your Asian friend from San Francisco - does he change his act when on the circuit, and according to geographical boundaries (i,e as degrees of 'otherness')? This may help your empirical work in capturing 'otherness', and elucidating how the comic adapts across locales. Also, multiple 'other' comics might show similar patterns within any particular locale. Operatively, locales would be the rows and "success" the columns; with i,e material related to first appearence on stage (or the pre - overly absurd bits) as a possible variable.
Best of luck,
On Mon, 14 Sep 1998 12:54:22 alicia b. dattner wrote:
>>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
>> 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.
>This idea on 'otherness overload' is basically the exact theory that I've
>been looking at to explain why the marked comics struggle (when they don't
>address their Otherness). I have found that when I come on stage and do
>some material related to my appearence before going into any overly absurd
>bits, the audience is much more receptive. Do you believe there are
>writings on this idea already in the humor field?
>What I hadn't thought of before was the connection you drew to an
>aggression theory (where can I find writing on this?); it makes a lot of
>sense. This is what I want to address in my paper, and I plan to cite
>empirical evidence from performances by 'marked' comics which succeeded or
>failed according to who they appeared to be, who their audience was, and
>what their material was about. I was unclear in what I meant when I said
>'marked'; in a white audience, an African-American comic would be 'marked'
>and vice versa (yet, in an audience comprised of men and women, a female
>comic would still be the marked).
>>But here in the Washington, D.C. area you'd have to go out of your way to
>>find a white, male, status-quo preserving comic.
>>In fact, when talking about American comedy in general, "marked" people
>>have always done all right, whether we're
>>talking about Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Roseanne Barr, etc.
>It is entirely true that there are regions where being white (Washington,
>D. C.) or being straight (West Hollywood in California) is not the norm,
>and in those areas, the norms are altered so that marked becomes unmarked
>and vice versa. However (and I appologize for being unclear), I was
>refering to the circut comics work which leads them to getting booked in
>major clubs, getting sitcoms, roles in film, etc. I acknowledge that there
>are a number of successful comics (Pryor, Barr, Tenuta, Tomlin, Ulman,
>Bruce, etc.) whose signifiers don't conform to the norm, yet I argue that
>these are still exceptions. I spent the past six months in San Francisco
>(a city many consider to be very multicultural and egalitarian) hanging out
>at the two major comedy clubs in town; nine out of ten comics getting
>booked for shows were male and four out of five were white (and a lot of
>these guys weren't that funny). For example, a very funny comic friend of
>mine who is Asian has spent ten or fifteen years on the circut. When he
>comes back to his home town (San Francisco) from being on tour, he still
>features instead of headlining at the two big clubs. It is easy to think
>of a few exceptions to the paradigm; it is difficult to get booked if you
>don't fit into the paradigm.
>I look forward to hearing from anyone with further ideas.
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