front cover of Amphitryon. The Comedy of Asses. The Pot of Gold. The Two Bacchises. The Captives
Amphitryon. The Comedy of Asses. The Pot of Gold. The Two Bacchises. The Captives
Harvard University Press, 2011
The rollicking comedies of Plautus, who brilliantly adapted Greek plays for Roman audiences c. 205–184 BCE, are the earliest Latin works to survive complete and are cornerstones of the European theatrical tradition from Shakespeare and Molière to modern times. This first volume of a new Loeb edition of all 21 of Plautus’s extant comedies presents Amphitruo, Asinaria, Aulularia, Bacchides, and Captivi with freshly edited texts, lively modern translations, and ample explanatory notes. Accompanying the plays is a detailed introduction to Plautus’s œuvre as a whole, discussing his techniques of translation and adaptation, his use of Roman humor, stage conventions, language and meter, and his impact on the Greco-Roman comedic theater and beyond.

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Andy Kaufman
Wrestling with the American Dream
Florian Keller
University of Minnesota Press, 2005
When Andy Kaufman succumbed suddenly to lung cancer in 1984, some of his fans believed that his death was yet another elaborate prank. Over the previous decade, Kaufman had achieved improbable fame for his bizarre antiperformances—lip-synching the Mighty Mouse theme song, reading The Great Gatsby aloud in its entirety when people expected comedy, asking audience members to touch a boil on his neck—that perplexed, annoyed, or offended his viewers. 

In Andy Kaufman, Florian Keller explores Kaufman’s career within a broader discussion of the ideology of the American Dream. Taking as his starting point the 1999 biopic Man on the Moon, Keller brilliantly decodes Kaufman in a way that makes it possible to grasp his radical agenda beyond avant-garde theories of transgression. As an entertainer, Kaufman submerged his identity beneath a multiplicity of personas, enacting the American belief that the self can and should be endlessly remade for the sake of happiness and success. He did this so rigorously and consistently, Keller argues, that he exposed the internal contradictions of America’s ideology of self-invention. 

Keller posits that Kaufman offered a radically different—and perhaps more potent—logic of cultural criticism than did more overtly political comedians such as Lenny Bruce. Presenting close readings of Kaufman’s most significant performances, Keller shows how Kaufman mounted—for the benefit of an often uncomprehending public—a sustained and remarkable critique of America’s obsession with celebrity and individualism. 

Florian Keller is a fellow at the Institute of Cultural Studies, School of Art and Design, University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Zurich.

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Aristophanes and the Cloak of Comedy
Affect, Aesthetics, and the Canon
Mario Telò
University of Chicago Press, 2016
The Greek playwright Aristophanes (active 427–386 BCE) is often portrayed as the poet who brought stability, discipline, and sophistication to the rowdy theatrical genre of Old Comedy. In this groundbreaking book, situated within the affective turn in the humanities, Mario Telò explores a vital yet understudied question: how did this view of Aristophanes arise, and why did his popularity eventually eclipse that of his rivals?

Telò boldly traces Aristophanes’s rise, ironically, to the defeat of his play Clouds at the Great Dionysia of 423 BCE. Close readings of his revised Clouds and other works, such as Wasps, uncover references to the earlier Clouds, presented by Aristophanes as his failed attempt to heal the audience, who are reflected in the plays as a kind of dysfunctional father. In this proto-canonical narrative of failure, grounded in the distinctive feelings of different comic modes, Aristophanic comedy becomes cast as a prestigious object, a soft, protective cloak meant to shield viewers from the debilitating effects of competitors’ comedies and restore a sense of paternal responsibility and authority. Associations between afflicted fathers and healing sons, between audience and poet, are shown to be at the center of the discourse that has shaped Aristophanes’s canonical dominance ever since.

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A Comedy of Values
Lawrence Weschler
University of Chicago Press, 1999
In this highly entertaining book, Lawrence Weschler chronicles the antics of J. S. G. Boggs, an artist whose consuming passion is money, or perhaps more precisely, value. Boggs draws money-paper notes in standard currencies from all over the world-and tries to spend his drawings. It is a practice that regularly lands him in trouble with treasury police around the globe and provokes fundamental questions regarding the value of art and the value of money.

"Lawrence Weschler, who evidently admires [Boggs]-something not difficult to do-has written what may be the most extraordinary biography imaginable: "weird," to use a favourite Boggs word. It does something towards changing our entire outlook on money and its uses. And the reader is left with an uneasy feeling that anything in this world can be created by drawing it." —Ruth Rendell, Daily Telegraph

"As ideal a subject matter as money is for Boggs' genius, Boggs is as ideal a topic for Weschler's considerable talents. . . . A writer any less lucid than Weschler would smudge the lines, making of Boggs a counterculture caricature or a high-art huckster. And a writer any less confident would knock the balance, making academic mud pies of Boggs' enlightened chaos." —Jonathon Keats, San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

"[A] witty and engaging chronicle. . . . Weschler's fascinating account of the artist as agent provocateur demonstrates both the significance of Boggs's art and his determination to continue his unusual critique of the idea of money." —Henry Wessells, Washington Post Book World

"[A] witty, excellently written account of a bizarre and fascinating snippet of modern life." —Paul Ormerod, Times Higher Education Supplement

"The book, like the artist, challenges people to pause and consider the extent to which the economic bedrock of everyday life is in part a confusing welter of artistic abstractions. It's a work that is at once informative, entertaining, and provocative-a reading experience, one might say, of rather good value." —Toby Lester, Atlantic Monthly

"[A] fascinating tale, especially in these days of fluctuating currency rates, the euro, and inexplicable Net-stock valuations." —Paul Lukas, Fortune

Lawrence Weschler, a recipient of the prestigious Lannan Literary Award for 1998, is the author of numerous books, including Calamities of Exile: Three Nonfiction Novellas, and Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder, which was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

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Citizens on Stage
Comedy and Political Culture in the Athenian Democracy
James F. McGlew
University of Michigan Press, 2002
In Citizens on Stage, James F. McGlew studies the political constructions of Athenian public and private life in the late fifth and early fourth centuries B.C.E., a period in which democracy underwent several important changes. It saw the emergence of new ideas of political participation--some supportive of democracy, others hostile--that were particularly significant in reshaping images of citizenship.
Old Comedy gives Citizens on Stage its chronological backbone; the beginning and end of Aristophanes' career roughly define the period on which the book concentrates. Reading and interpreting comedy provides a model for reading Athenian politics itself. McGlew argues that the plays of Old Comedy, with their fantastic stories of common individuals triumphing over the various social and political dilemmas of democratic Athens, interpreted the relationship of private life and political activity for an Athenian audience, dramatically reaffirming the ties between citizens' personal desires and the will of the collective body. In particular, McGlew argues that comedy transforms private fantasies of personal power and pleasures--what seem most to keep the individual audience members apart--into a collective possession and touchstone of democratic citizen identity.
Citizens on Stage focuses primarily on the democratic citizen and on contemporary representations of him as a decision maker. McGlew shows that the democratic individual, sometimes idealized, sometimes despised, was a dominant concern of the literature and politics of late fifth- and early fourth-century Athens. This book will appeal to students of ancient theater and drama, Athenian politics and democracy, and the relationships between theater and politics. Social historians will also find it an invaluable resource.
James F. McGlew is Assistant Professor of Foreign Languages and Literatures and Classical Studies, Iowa State University.

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American Style: Jessie Redmon Fauset
Sherrard-Johnson, Cherene
Rutgers University Press, 2009
Comedy: American Style, Jessie Redmon Fauset's fourth and final novel, recounts the tragic tale of a family's destructionùthe story of a mother who denies her clan its heritage. Originally published in 1933, this intense narrative stands the test of time and continues to raise compelling, disturbing, and still contemporary themes of color prejudice and racial self-hatred. Several of today's bestselling novelists echo subject matter first visited in Fauset's commanding work, which overflows with rich, vivid, and complex characters who explore questions of color, passing, and black identity.

Cherene Sherrard-Johnson's introduction places this literary classic in both the new modernist and transatlantic contexts and will be embraced by those interested in earlytwentieth-century women writers, novels about passing, the Harlem Renaissance, the black/white divide, and diaspora studies. Selected essays and poems penned by Fauset are also included, among them "Yarrow Revisited" and "Oriflamme," which help highlight the full canon of her extraordinary contribution to literature and provide contextual background to the novel.


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Comedy Is A Man In Trouble
Slapstick In American Movies
Alan Dale
University of Minnesota Press, 2002
An enthusiast's look at American comedies and the physical comedians who made them great. Winner of the Theater Library Association's Special Jury Prize for Distinguished Achievement (2001). "Comedy is famously difficult to analyze. But Alan Dale shows that you can talk about a joke without completely stepping on it. In Comedy Is a Man in Trouble, Dale seasons his weightier theories about slapstick in film with engaging opinions and witty asides. Dale tackles many of the great film comedians, from Charlie Chaplin to Jim Carrey. His seemingly encyclopedic knowledge, back to the most obscure silent films, produces admirable close readings." --Ted Loos, New York Times Book Review "A delightful study. Fun to read." --The Bloomsbury Review "A delicate balancing act between traditional cinematic criticism and pie-in-the-face pratfalls, and Dale manages to pull it off with the skill and aplomb of the silent slapstick clowns he so clearly idolizes. Rather than attempt of account for every low-comedy star and his/her entire repertoire, Dale focuses on a handful of key superstars-specifically Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, the Marx Brothers and Jerry Lewis-and combines biography with cinematic analysis to create a convincing timeline of the rise, fall, and rebirth of one of the movies' most popular genres. He also takes time to examine the controversial role of women in Hollywood comedy, ultimately anointing Katherine Hepburn as the Queen of Slapstick. Comedy is a Man in Trouble hits the mark." --Fade In Legendary screen comedian Jerry Lewis once said, "The premise of all comedy is a man in trouble." The films that endeared Lewis and others to us hinged on the physical assault of their hero, the pie in the face or slip on the banana peel that reduced the movie star to the level of the audience. Comedy Is a Man in Trouble presents the legacy of physical humor from the performances of vaudeville actors and circus clowns-who coined the term "slapstick" by playfully and noisily beating each other with wooden paddles-to its ongoing popularity today in the films of Jim Carrey and the Farrelly brothers. Alan Dale's personal and passionate tour of movie slapstick begins with an original assessment of the work of famed silent clowns Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton. Dale rejects the long-held notion that the talent of these comedians lies in their ability to combine comedy and tragedy and suggests that their riotous imaginations and their physical grace revealed greatness in comedy for its own sake. A decade later the Marx Brothers exploited the new technology of sound film in their fast-paced verbal exchanges-and, in doing so, invented a verbal form of slapstick later exploited by directors such as Preston Sturges and Howard Hawks. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Jerry Lewis energetically revised and combined the physical and verbal humor of his predecessors for a new generation of viewers. Comedy Is a Man in Trouble presents a lively, accessible, and lavishly illustrated look at a form of comedy that has its origins in ancient Greece and in American vaudeville and has been expanded and refashioned in film by everyone from W. C. Fields and Marion Davies to Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Here is not only an amusing look at film comedy history, but an insight into the human condition and what causes us to laugh. Alan Dale worked at a Los Angeles talent agency before earning a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Princeton University. He lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.

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The Comedy of Errors
William Shakespeare
Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2022
Shakespeare’s archetypal slapstick comedy, now with updated jokes and wordplay.

One of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, The Comedy of Errors is a farcical tale of separated twins and mistaken identities. This slapstick play is a staple of the genre, including madcap bawdiness, love at first sight, reunions, and happily-ever-afters. Christina Anderson’s translation dives deep into the joy of the original text, reinterpreting the metaphor, antiquated slang, and double and triple entendre for a contemporary audience.

This translation of The Comedy of Errors was written as part of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Play On! project, which commissioned new translations of thirty-nine Shakespeare plays. These translations present work from “The Bard” in language accessible to modern audiences while never losing the beauty of Shakespeare’s verse. Enlisting the talents of a diverse group of contemporary playwrights, screenwriters, and dramaturges from diverse backgrounds, this project reenvisions Shakespeare for the twenty-first century. These volumes make these works available for the first time in print—a new First Folio for a new era.

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The Comedy Studies Reader
Edited by Nick Marx and Matt Sienkiewicz
University of Texas Press, 2018

Winner, MPCA/ACA Book Award, Midwest Popular Culture Association / Midwest American Culture Association, 2020

From classical Hollywood film comedies to sitcoms, recent political satire, and the developing world of online comedy culture, comedy has been a mainstay of the American media landscape for decades. Recognizing that scholars and students need an authoritative collection of comedy studies that gathers both foundational and cutting-edge work, Nick Marx and Matt Sienkiewicz have assembled The Comedy Studies Reader.

This anthology brings together classic articles, more recent works, and original essays that consider a variety of themes and approaches for studying comedic media—the carnivalesque, comedy mechanics and absurdity, psychoanalysis, irony, genre, race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and nation and globalization. The authors range from iconic theorists, such as Mikhail Bakhtin, Sigmund Freud, and Linda Hutcheon, to the leading senior and emerging scholars of today. As a whole, the volume traces two parallel trends in the evolution of the field—first, comedy’s development into myriad subgenres, formats, and discourses, a tendency that has led many popular commentators to characterize the present as a “comedy zeitgeist”; and second, comedy studies’ new focus on the ways in which comedy increasingly circulates in “serious” discursive realms, including politics, economics, race, gender, and cultural power.


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The Comic Mind
Comedy and the Movies
Gerald Mast
University of Chicago Press, 1979
Although books on the comedies of the silent era abound, few have attempted to survey film comedy as a whole—its history and evolution, how the philosophical visions of its greatest artists and directors have shaped its traditions, and how these visions have informed both the meaning and manner of their work.

Blending information with interpretation, description with analysis, Mast traces the development of screen comedy from the first crude efforts of Edison and Lumière to the subtlety and psychological complexity of Annie Hall. As he guides the reader through detailed discussions of specific films, Mast reveals the structures, the values, and the cinematic techniques which have appeared and reappeared in comic cinema.

The second edition of The Comic Mind treats the comic developments of the 1970s in terms of the traditions of film comedy set forth in the first edition, including a discussion of the evolution of Jacques Tati and the emergence of Mel Brooks and Woody Allen as the two greatest American comic stylists of the seventies.

"The most comprehensive study of film comedy yet written in English. . . .The book's extensive index with references to companies from which 16mm prints of many of the cited films may be rented will be of great value to the film teacher and audiovisual librarian."—Choice

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The Comic Self
Toward Dispossession
Timothy C. Campbell
University of Minnesota Press, 2023

A provocative and unconventional call to dispossess the self of itself


Challenging the contemporary notion of “self-care” and the Western mania for “self-possession,” The Comic Self deploys philosophical discourse and literary expression to propose an alternate and less toxic model for human aspiration: a comic self. Timothy Campbell and Grant Farred argue that the problem with the “care of the self,” from Foucault onward, is that it reinforces identity, strengthening the relation between I and mine. This assertion of self-possession raises a question vital for understanding how we are to live with each other and ourselves: How can you care for something that is truly not yours?

The answer lies in the unrepresentable comic self. Campbell and Farred range across philosophy, literature, and contemporary comedy—engaging with Socrates, Burke, Hume, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida, Deleuze, and Levinas; Shakespeare, Cervantes, Woolf, Kafka, and Pasolini; and Stephen Colbert, David Chappelle, and the cast of Saturday Night Live. They uncover spaces where the dispossession of self and, with it, the dismantling of the regime of self-care are possible. Arguing that the comic self always keeps a precarious closeness to the tragic self, while opposing the machinations of capital endemic to the logic of self-possession, they provide a powerful and provocative antidote to the tragic self that so dominates the tenor of our times.


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A Concept of Dramatic Genre and the Comedy of a New Type
Chess, Literature, and Film
V. Ulea
Southern Illinois University Press, 2002

Applying systems theory to the comedies of Chekhov, Balzac, Kleist, Moliere, and Shakespeare, A Concept of Dramatic Genre and the Comedy of a New Type: Chess, Literature, and Film approaches dramatic genre from the point of view of the degree of richness and strength of a character’s potential. Its main focus is to establish a methodology for analyzing the potential from multidimensional perspectives, using systems thinking. The whole concept is an alternative to the Aristotelian plot-based approach and is applied to an analysis of western and eastern European authors as well as contemporary American film.


This innovative study consists of three parts: The first part is mostly theoretical, proposing a new definition of the dramatic as a category linked to general systems phenomena and offering a new classification of dramatic genre. In the second part, Ulea offers a textual analysis of some works based on this new classification. She analyzes comedies, tragedies, and dramas on the same or similar topics in order to reveal what makes them belong to opposite types of dramatic genre. 

Additionally, she considers the question of fate and chance, with regard to tragedy and comedy, from the point of view of the predispositioning theory. In the third part, Ulea explores an analysis of the comedy of a new type—CNT.  Her emphasis is on the integration of the part and the whole in approaching the protagonist’s potential. She introduces the term quasi-strong potential in order to reveal the illusory strength of protagonists of the CNT and to show the technique of CNT’s analysis and synthesis.


Ulea’s research begins with the notion of the comic, traditionally considered synonymous with the laughable, and attempts to approach it as independent from the laughable and laughter. The necessity to do so is dictated by the desire to penetrate the enigmatic nature of Chekhov’s comedy. The result is A Concept of Dramatic Genre and the Comedy of a New Type: Chess, Literature, and Film, a completely new approach to potential and systems thinking—which has never been a focus of dramatic theory before. Such potential is the touchstone of the comic and comedy, their permanent basic characteristic, the heart and axis around which the comedic world spins.


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The Court of Comedy
Wilfred E. Major
The Ohio State University Press, 2013
The Court of Comedy: Aristophanes, Rhetoric, and Democracy in Fifth-Century Athens, by Wilfred E. Major, analyzes how writers of comedy in Classical Greece satirized the emerging art of rhetoric and its role in political life. In the fifth century BCE, the development of rhetoric proceeded hand in hand with the growth of democracy both on Sicily and at Athens. In turn, comic playwrights in Athens, most notably Aristophanes, lampooned oratory as part of their commentary on the successes and failures of the young democracy.
This innovative study is the first book to survey all the surviving comedy from the fifth century BCE on these important topics. The evidence reveals that Greek comedy provides a revealing commentary on the incipient craft of rhetoric before its formal conventions were stabilized. Furthermore, Aristophanes’ depiction of rhetoric and of Athenian democratic institutions indicates that he fundamentally supports the Athenian democracy and not, as is often argued, oligarchic opposition to it.
These conclusions confirm recent work that reinterprets the early development of rhetoric in Classical Greece and offer fresh perspectives on the debate over the role of comedy in early Greek democracy. Throughout, Major capitalizes on recent progress in understanding of the performance dynamics of Classical Greek theater.

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Cracking Up
Black Feminist Comedy in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Century United States
Katelyn Hale Wood
University of Iowa Press, 2021
Cracking Up archives and analyzes Black feminist stand-up comedy in the United States over the past sixty years. Looking closely at the work of Jackie “Moms” Mabley, Mo’Nique, Wanda Sykes, Sasheer Zamata, Sam Jay, Phoebe Robinson, Jessica Williams, Amanda Seales, and Michelle Buteau, this book shows how Black feminist comedy and the laughter it ignites are vital components of feminist, queer, and anti-racist protest.

Katelyn Hale Wood interprets these artists not as tokens in a white, male-dominated field, but as part of a continuous history of Black feminist performance and presence. Broadly, Cracking Up frames stand-up comedy as an important platform from which to examine citizenship in the United States, articulate Black feminist political thought, and subvert structures of power. Wood also champions comedic performance and theatre history as imperative contexts for advancing historical studies of race, gender, and sexuality. From the comedy routines popular on Black vaudeville circuits to stand-up on contemporary social media platforms, Cracking Up excavates an overlooked history of Black women who have made the art of joke-telling a key part of radical performance and political engagement.

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The Cultural Set Up of Comedy
Affective Politics in the United States Post 9/11
Julie Webber
Intellect Books, 2013
How do various forms of comedy—including stand-up, satire, and film and television—transform contemporary invocations of nationalism and citizenship in youth cultures? And how are attitudes about gender, race, and sexuality transformed through comedic performances on social media? The Cultural Set Up of Comedy seeks to answer these questions by examining comedic performances by Chris Rock and Louis C.K., news parodies The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report, the role of satire in the Arab Spring, and the groundbreaking performances by women in Bridesmaids. Breaking with the usual cultural studies debates over how to conceptualize youth, the book instead focuses on the comedic cultural and political scripts that frame them.


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Dante's Gluttons
Food and Society from the Convivio to the Comedy
Danielle Callegari
Amsterdam University Press, 2022
Dante’s Gluttons: Food and Society from the Convivio to the Comedy explores how in his work medieval Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) uses food to articulate, reinforce, criticize, and correct the social, political, and cultural values of his time. Combining medieval history, food studies, and literary criticism, Dante’s Gluttons historicizes food and eating in Dante, beginning in his earliest collected poetry and arriving at the end of his major work. For Dante, the consumption of food is not a frivolity, but a crux of life in the most profound sense of the term, and gluttony is the abdication of civic and spiritual responsibility and a danger to the individual body and soul as well as to the collective. This book establishes how one of the world’s preeminent authors uses the intimacy and universality of food as a touchstone, communicating through a gastronomic language rooted in the deeply human relationship with material sustenance.

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Dark Laughter
Spanish Film, Comedy, and the Nation
Juan F. Egea
University of Wisconsin Press, 2013
In Dark Laughter, Juan F. Egea provides a remarkable in-depth analysis of the dark comedy film genre in Spain, as well as a provocative critical engagement with the idea of national cinema, the visual dimension of cultural specificity, and the ethics of dark humor.

Egea begins his analysis with General Franco's dictatorship in the 1960s—a regime that opened the country to new economic forces while maintaining its repressive nature—exploring key works by Luis García Berlanga, Marco Ferreri, Fernando Fernán-Gómez, and Luis Buñuel. Dark Laughter then moves to the first films of Pedro Almodóvar in the early 1980s during the Spanish political transition to democracy before examining Alex de la Iglesia and the new dark comedies of the 1990s. Analyzing this younger generation of filmmakers, Egea traces dark comedy to Spain's displays of ultramodernity such as the Universal Exposition in Seville and the Barcelona Olympic Games.

At its core, Dark Laughter is a substantial inquiry into the epistemology of comedy, the intricacies of visual modernity, and the relationship between cinema and a wider framework of representational practices.


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Dead Funny
The Humor of American Horror
David Gillota
Rutgers University Press, 2023
Horror films strive to make audiences scream, but they also garner plenty of laughs. In fact, there is a long tradition of horror directors who are fluent in humor, from James Whale to John Landis to Jordan Peele. So how might horror and humor overlap more than we would expect?
Dead Funny locates humor as a key element in the American horror film, one that is not merely used for extraneous “comic relief” moments but often serves to underscore major themes, intensify suspense, and disorient viewers. Each chapter focuses on a different comic style or device, from the use of funny monsters and scary clowns in movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street to the physical humor and slapstick in movies ranging from The Evil Dead to Final Destination.  Along the way, humor scholar David Gillota explores how horror films employ parody, satire, and camp to comment on gender, sexuality, and racial politics. Covering everything from the grotesque body in Freaks to the comedy of awkwardness in Midsommar, this book shows how integral humor has been to the development of the American horror film over the past century. 

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The Death of Comedy
Erich Segal
Harvard University Press, 2001

In a grand tour of comic theater over the centuries, Erich Segal traces the evolution of the classical form from its early origins in a misogynistic quip by the sixth-century B.C. Susarion, through countless weddings and happy endings, to the exasperated monosyllables of Samuel Beckett. With fitting wit, profound erudition lightly worn, and instructive examples from the mildly amusing to the uproarious, his book fully illustrates comedy's glorious life cycle from its first breath to its death in the Theater of the Absurd.

An exploration of various landmarks in the history of a genre that flourished almost unchanged for two millennia, The Death of Comedy revisits the obscenities and raucous twists of Aristophanes, the neighborly pleasantries of Menander, the tomfoolery and farce of Plautus. Segal shows how the ribaldry of foiled adultery, a staple of Roman comedy, reappears in force on the stages of Restoration England. And he gives us a closer look at the schadenfreude--delight in someone else's misfortune--that marks Machiavelli's and Marlowe's works.

At every turn in Segal's analysis--from Shakespeare to Molière to Shaw--another facet of the comic art emerges, until finally, he argues, "the head conquers and the heart dies": Letting the intellect take the lead, Cocteau, Ionesco, and Beckett smother comedy as we know it. The book is a tour de force, a sweeping panorama of the art and history of comedy, as insightful as it is delightful to read.


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Ernie Kovacs & Early TV Comedy
Nothing in Moderation
By Andrew Horton
University of Texas Press, 2010

Among the pioneers of television, Ernie Kovacs was one of the most original and imaginative comedians. His zany, irreverent, and surprising humor not only entertained audiences throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, but also inspired a host of later comedies and comedians, including Monty Python, David Letterman, much of Saturday Night Live, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, Captain Kangaroo, and even Sesame Street. Kovacs created laughter through wildly creative comic jokes, playful characterizations, hilarious insights, and wacky experiments. "Nothing in moderation," his motto and epitaph, sums up well Kovacs's wholehearted approach to comedy and life.

In this book, Andrew Horton offers the first sustained look at Ernie Kovacs's wide-ranging and lasting contributions to the development of TV comedy. He discusses in detail Kovacs's work in New York, which included The Ernie Kovacs Show (CBS prime time 1952–1953), The Ernie Kovacs Show (NBC daytime variety 1956–1957), Tonight (NBC late-night comedy/variety 1956-1957), and a number of quiz shows. Horton also looks at Kovacs's work in Los Angeles and in feature film comedy. He vividly describes how Kovacs and his comic co-conspirators created offbeat characters and zany situations that subverted expectations and upended the status quo. Most of all, Horton demonstrates that Kovacs grasped the possibility for creating a fresh genre of comedy through the new medium of television and exploited it to the fullest.


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The Fake Husband, A Comedy
Flaminio Scala
Iter Press, 2020
Scala’s The Fake Husband offers readers and performers an accessible English script which captures the comic brilliance of the commedia dell’arte. Expanded from an earlier scenario, Il marito (The Husband), the play presents characters originally created by members of the Gelosi troupe, in particular the stars Isabella Andreini and Sylvia Roncagli. Scala’s ability to capture the individual artistry of these women makes this script especially exciting and shows his appreciation of the towering contribution made by the female performers who joined the troupes in the 1560s. Also included is a comprehensive study of Scala’s place in the theatrical world and beyond.

The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe - The Toronto Series, volume 75

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Fools Are Everywhere
The Court Jester Around the World
Beatrice K. Otto
University of Chicago Press, 2001
In this lively work, Beatrice K. Otto takes us on a journey around the world in search of one of the most colorful characters in history—the court jester. Though not always clad in cap and bells, these witty, quirky characters crop up everywhere, from the courts of ancient China and the Mogul emperors of India to those of medieval Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas. With a wealth of anecdotes, jokes, quotations, epigraphs, and illustrations (including flip art), Otto brings to light little-known jesters, highlighting their humanizing influence on people with power and position and placing otherwise remote historical figures in a more idiosyncratic, intimate light.

Most of the work on the court jester has concentrated on Europe; Otto draws on previously untranslated classical Chinese writings and other sources to correct this bias and also looks at jesters in literature, mythology, and drama. Written with wit and humor, Fools Are Everywhere is the most comprehensive look at these roguish characters who risked their necks not only to mock and entertain but also to fulfill a deep and widespread human and social need.

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Four of the Three Musketeers
The Marx Brothers on Stage
Robert S. Bader
Northwestern University Press, 2022

An updated paperback version of the book heralded as “a new benchmark in Marx scholarship” by the Los Angeles Times

Before film made them international comedy legends, the Marx Brothers developed their comic skills on stage for twenty-five years. In Four of the Three Musketeers: The Marx Brothers on Stage, Robert S. Bader offers the first comprehensive history of the foursome’s hardscrabble early years honing their act in front of live audiences.

From Groucho’s debut in 1905 to their final live performances of scenes from A Night in Casablanca in 1945, the brothers’ stage career shows how their characters and routines evolved before their arrival in Hollywood. Four of the Three Musketeers draws on an unmatched array of sources, many not referenced elsewhere. Bader’s detailed portrait of the struggling young actors both brings to vivid life a typical night on the road for the Marx Brothers and illuminates the inner workings of the vaudeville business, especially during its peak in the 1920s.

As Bader traces the origins of the characters that would later come to be beloved by filmgoers, he also skillfully scrapes away the accretion of rumors and mythology perpetuated not only by fans and writers but by the Marx Brothers themselves. Revealing, vital, and entertaining, Four of the Three Musketeers has taken its place as an essential reference for this legendary American act. Now, the updated edition adds newly discovered performances—some submitted by readers—and additional information provided by descendants of long-departed vaudevillians mentioned in the book.


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From the Top
Brief Transmissions from Tent Show Radio
Michael Perry
Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2013

“Bottom line is, I’m the kind of guy who’s happy to go to the opera, but I should like to be allowed to wear steel-toed boots with my evening suit. I like to read Harper’s with a chaser of Varmint Hunter Magazine. Maybe that’s why I enjoy a good show under canvas. Here we sit, brain-deep in arts and culture, but we’re also just people hanging out in a tent, some of us wearing boots, a few of us wearing Birkenstocks, but best of all we’re breathing free fresh air filled with music.”

From Scandihoovian Spanglish to snickering chickens, New York Times bestselling author and humorist Michael Perry navigates a wide range of topics in this collection of brief essays drawn from his weekly appearances on the nationally syndicated Tent Show Radio program. Fatherhood, dumpster therapy, dangerous wedding rings, Christmas trees, used cars, why you should have bacon in your stock portfolio, loggers in clogs—whatever the subject, Perry has a rare ability to touch both the funny bone and the heart.


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The Great Art Hoax
Essays in the Comedy and Insanity of Collectible Art
Jon Huer
University of Wisconsin Press, 1990
The Great Art Hoax exposes the real fakery and hypocrisy of the art world: how art is manufactured and marketed; how the pathology of private possession drives up the price; and how false art is hyped as true art to the tune of millions of dollars. Jon Huer demonstrates convincingly that what the art market deals as art need not be “art” at all.

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G-Strings and Sympathy
Strip Club Regulars and Male Desire
Katherine Frank
Duke University Press, 2002
Based on her experiences as a stripper in a city she calls Laurelton—a southeastern city renowned for its strip clubs—anthropologist Katherine Frank provides a fascinating insider’s account of the personal and cultural fantasies motivating male heterosexual strip club "regulars." Given that all of the clubs where she worked prohibited physical contact between the exotic dancers and their customers, in G-Strings and Sympathy Frank asks what—if not sex or even touching—the repeat customers were purchasing from the clubs and from the dancers. She finds that the clubs provide an intermediate space—not work, not home—where men can enjoyably experience their bodies and selves through conversation, fantasy, and ritualized voyeurism. At the same time, she shows how the dynamics of male pleasure and privilege in strip clubs are intertwined with ideas about what it means to be a man in contemporary America.

Frank’s ethnography draws on her work as an exotic dancer in five clubs, as well as on her interviews with over thirty regular customers—middle-class men in their late-twenties to mid-fifties. Reflecting on the customers’ dual desires for intimacy and visibility, she explores their paradoxical longings for "authentic" interactions with the dancers, the ways these aspirations are expressed within the highly controlled and regulated strip clubs, and how they relate to beliefs and fantasies about social class and gender. She considers how regular visits to strip clubs are not necessarily antithetical to marriage or long-term heterosexual relationships, but are based on particular beliefs about marriage and monogamy that make these clubs desirable venues. Looking at the relative "classiness" of the clubs where she worked—ranging from the city’s most prestigious clubs to some of its dive bars—she reveals how the clubs are differentiated by reputations, dress codes, cover charges, locations, and clientele, and describes how these distinctions become meaningful and erotic for the customers. Interspersed throughout the book are three fictional interludes that provide an intimate look at Frank’s experiences as a stripper—from the outfits to the gestures, conversations, management, coworkers, and, of course, the customers.

Focusing on the experiences of the male clients, rather than those of the female sex workers, G-Strings and Sympathy provides a nuanced, lively, and tantalizing account of the stigmatized world of strip clubs.


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Humor and Comedy in Puppetry
Celebration in Popular Culture
University of Wisconsin Press, 1987
This volume is about puppetry, an expression of popular and folk culture which is extremely widespread around the world and yet has attracted relatively little scholarly attention. Puppetry, which is intended for audiences of adults as well as children, is a form of communication and entertainment and an esthetic and artistic creation. Of the many aspects of puppetry worthy of scholarly study, this book's focus is on a central and dominant feature--humor and comedy.

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Women in American Comedy
Edited by Linda Mizejewski and Victoria Sturtevant; foreword by Kathleen Rowe Karlyn
University of Texas Press, 2017

Ideal for classroom use, this anthology of original essays by the leading authorities on women’s comedy surveys the disorderly, subversive, and unruly performances of women comics from silent film to contemporary multimedia

Winner, Susan Koppleman Award for Best Anthology, Multi-Authored, or Edited Book in Feminist Studies, Popular and American Culture Associations (PACA), 2017

Amy Schumer, Samantha Bee, Mindy Kaling, Melissa McCarthy, Tig Notaro, Leslie Jones, and a host of hilarious peers are killing it nightly on American stages and screens large and small, smashing the tired stereotype that women aren’t funny. But today’s funny women aren’t a new phenomenon—they have generations of hysterically funny foremothers. Fay Tincher’s daredevil stunts, Mae West’s linebacker walk, Lucille Ball’s manic slapstick, Carol Burnett’s athletic pratfalls, Ellen DeGeneres’s tomboy pranks, Whoopi Goldberg’s sly twinkle, and Tina Fey’s acerbic wit all paved the way for contemporary unruly women, whose comedy upends the norms and ideals of women’s bodies and behaviors.

Hysterical! Women in American Comedy delivers a lively survey of women comics from the stars of the silent cinema up through the multimedia presences of Tina Fey and Lena Dunham. This anthology of original essays includes contributions by the field’s leading authorities, introducing a new framework for women’s comedy that analyzes the implications of hysterical laughter and hysterically funny performances. Expanding on previous studies of comedians such as Mae West, Moms Mabley, and Margaret Cho, and offering the first scholarly work on comedy pioneers Mabel Normand, Fay Tincher, and Carol Burnett, the contributors explore such topics as racial/ethnic/sexual identity, celebrity, stardom, censorship, auteurism, cuteness, and postfeminism across multiple media. Situated within the main currents of gender and queer studies, as well as American studies and feminist media scholarship, Hysterical! masterfully demonstrates that hysteria—women acting out and acting up—is a provocative, empowering model for women’s comedy.


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Jane Austen and Comedy
Erin Goss
Bucknell University Press, 2019
Jane Austen and Comedy takes for granted two related notions. First, Jane Austen’s books are funny; they induce laughter, and that laughter is worth attending to for a variety of reasons. Second, Jane Austen’s books are comedies, understandable both through the generic form that ends in marriage after the potential hilarity of romantic adversity and through a more general promise of wish fulfillment. In bringing together Austen and comedy, which are both often dismissed as superfluous or irrelevant to a contemporary world, this collection of essays directs attention to the ways we laugh, the ways that Austen may make us do so, and the ways that our laughter is conditioned by the form in which Austen writes: comedy. Jane Austen and Comedy invites reflection not only on her inclusion of laughter and humor, the comic, jokes, wit, and all the other topics that can so readily be grouped under the broad umbrella that is comedy, but also on the idea or form of comedy itself, and on the way that this form may govern our thinking about many things outside the realm of Austen’s work.  

Published by Bucknell University Press. Distributed worldwide by Rutgers University Press.

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Joyce Cary
The Comedy of Freedom
Charles G. Hoffmann
University of Pittsburgh Press, 1964
Joyce Cary (1888-1957) read law at Oxford University, worked with the Red Cross the Balkan Wars, and served in Nigeria and Cameroon during World War I. In 1920, Cary moved to Oxford, where he began writing short stories and novels. His first four novels, set in Africa, drew heavily from his experiences in Nigeria. Mister Johnson, published in 1939, is generally regarded as his greatest novel. Charley Is My Darling (1940), about displaced young people at the start of World War II, found a wide readership, and A House of Children (1941) won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for best novel. Cary also wrote a trilogy about an artist named Gulley Jimson; Herself Surprised (1941), To Be a Pilgrim (1942) and The Horse’s Mouth (1944), and, in the 1950s, a second trilogy: Prisoner of Grace, Except the Lord, and Not Honour More.

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Love Song for the Life of the Mind
An Essay on the Purpose of Comedy
Gene Fendt
Catholic University of America Press, 2007
Love Song for the Life of the Mind develops the view of comedy that, the author argues, would have been set out in Aristotle's missing second book of Poetics. As such it is both a philosophical and a historical argument about Aristotle; and the theory of comedy it elucidates is meant to be trans-historically and trans-culturally accurate.

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Old Masters
A Comedy
Thomas Bernhard
University of Chicago Press, 1992
In this exuberantly satirical novel, the tutor Atzbacher has been summoned by his friend Reger to meet him in a Viennese museum. While Reger gazes at a Tintoretto portrait, Atzbacher—who fears Reger's plans to kill himself—gives us a portrait of the musicologist: his wisdom, his devotion to his wife, and his love-hate relationship with
art. With characteristically acerbic wit, Bernhard exposes the pretensions and aspirations of humanity in a novel at once pessimistic and strangely exhilarating.

"Bernhard's . . . most enjoyable novel."—Robert Craft, New York Review of Books.

"Bernhard is one of the masters of contemporary European fiction."—George Steiner

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Only a Joke Can Save Us
A Theory of Comedy
Todd McGowan
Northwestern University Press, 2017

Only a Joke Can Save Us presents an innovative and comprehensive theory of comedy. Using a wealth of examples from high and popular culture and with careful attention to the treatment of humor in philosophy, Todd McGowan locates the universal source of comedy in the interplay of the opposing concepts lack and excess.

After reviewing the treatment of comedy in the work of philosophers as varied as Aristotle, G. W. F. Hegel, Sigmund Freud, Henri Bergson, and Alenka Zupancic, McGowan, working in a psychoanalytic framework, demonstrates that comedy results from the deployment of lack and excess, whether in contrast, juxtaposition, or interplay.

Illustrating the power and flexibility of this framework with analyses of films ranging from Buster Keaton and Marx Brothers classics to Dr. Strangelove and Groundhog Day, McGowan shows how humor can reveal gaps in being and gaps in social order. Scholarly yet lively and readable, Only a Joke Can Save Us is a groundbreaking examination of the enigmatic yet endlessly fascinating experience of humor and comedy.


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Overweight Sensation
The Life and Comedy of Allan Sherman
Mark Cohen
Brandeis University Press, 2013
Allan Sherman was the Larry David, the Adam Sandler, the Sacha Baron Cohen of 1963. He led Jewish humor and sensibilities out of ethnic enclaves and into the American mainstream with explosively funny parodies of classic songs that won Sherman extraordinary success and acclaim across the board, from Harpo Marx to President Kennedy. In Overweight Sensation, Mark Cohen argues persuasively for Sherman’s legacy as a touchstone of postwar humor and a turning point in Jewish American cultural history. With exclusive access to Allan Sherman’s estate, Cohen has written the first biography of the manic, bacchanalian, and hugely creative artist who sold three million albums in just twelve months, yet died in obscurity a decade later at the age of forty-nine. Comprehensive, dramatic, stylish, and tragic, Overweight Sensation is destined to become the definitive Sherman biography.

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Pictures from an Institution
A Comedy
Randall Jarrell
University of Chicago Press, 2010

Beneath the unassuming surface of a progressive women’s college lurks a world of intellectual pride and pomposity awaiting devastation by the pens of two brilliant and appalling wits. Randall Jarrell’s classic novel was originally published to overwhelming critical acclaim in 1954, forging a new standard for campus satire—and instantly yielding comparisons to Dorothy Parker’s razor-sharp barbs. Like his fictional nemesis, Jarrell cuts through the earnest conversations at Benton College—mischievously, but with mischief nowhere more wicked than when crusading against the vitriolic heroine herself. 


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Plato and Aristophanes
Comedy, Politics, and the Pursuit of a Just Life
Marina Marren
Northwestern University Press, 2022
In Plato and Aristophanes, Marina Marren contends that our search for communal justice must start with self-examination. The realization that there are things that we cannot know about ourselves unless we become the subject of a joke is integral to such self-scrutiny. Jokes provide a new perspective on our politics and ethics; they are essential to our civic self-awareness.
Marren makes this case by delving into Plato’s Republic, a foundational work of political philosophy. While the Republic straightforwardly condemns the decadence and greed of a tyrant, Plato’s attack on political idealism is both solemn and comedic. In fact, Plato draws on the same comedic stock and tropes as do Aristophanes’s plays. Marren’s book strikes up an innovative conversation between three works by Aristophanes—Assembly Women, Knights, and Birds—and Plato’s philosophy, prompting important questions about individual convictions and one’s personal search for justice. These dialogic works offer critiques of tyranny that are by turns brilliant, scathing, and exuberant, making light of faults and ideals alike. Philosophical comedy exposes despotism in individuals as well as systems of government claiming to be just and good. This critique holds as much bite against contemporary injustices as it did at the time of Aristophanes and Plato.
An ingenious new work by an emerging scholar, Plato and Aristophanes shows that comedy—in tandem with philosophy and politics—is essential to self-examination. And without such examination, there is no hope for a just life.

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Played Out
The Race Man in Twenty-First-Century Satire
Brandon J. Manning
Rutgers University Press, 2022
Dating back to the blackface minstrel performances of Bert Williams and the trickster figure of Uncle Julius in Charles Chesnutt’s Conjure Tales, black humorists have negotiated American racial ideologies as they reclaimed the ability to represent themselves in the changing landscape of the early 20th century. Marginalized communities routinely use humor, specifically satire, to subvert the political, social, and cultural realities of race and racism in America. Through contemporary examples in popular culture and politics, including the work of Kendrick Lamar, Key and Peele and the presidency of Barack Obama and many others, in Played Out: The Race Man in 21st Century Satire author Brandon J. Manning examines how Black satirists create vulnerability to highlight the inner emotional lives of Black men. In focusing on vulnerability these satirists attend to America’s most basic assumptions about Black men. Contemporary Black satire is a highly visible and celebrated site of black masculine self-expression. Black satirists leverage this visibility to trouble discourses on race and gender in the Post-Civil Rights era. More specifically, contemporary Black satire uses laughter to decenter Black men from the socio-political tradition of the Race Man.

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Post-Personal Romanticism
Democratic Terror, Prosthetic Poetics, and the Comedy of Modern Ethical Life
Bo Earle
The Ohio State University Press, 2017
Post-Personal Romanticism: Democratic Terror, Prosthetic Poetics, and the Comedy of Modern Ethical Life by Bo Earle offers a broad recasting of Romantic lyric’s formal innovations in terms of Hegel’s historical ethics. These innovations attempt to come to terms with the Enlightenment’s paradoxical legacy: industrial and consumerist modernity depends on the Enlightenment norm of rationally autonomous individuality even as it makes this norm ever more implausible. In turn, a key insight of the Romantics is that modernity depends most crucially upon the very elusiveness of this norm of autonomous individuality. The Romantics emphasize that modernity is constitutively a culture of fantasy, a culture self-conscious about the impossibility of its own organizing values and goals.
Tracing this insight to Hegel’s suggestion that modern subjectivity is in some sense post-individual or even posthumous, Earle argues that signature Romantic lyrics offer a way forward that avoids postmodernism’s wholesale rejection of autonomous selfhood. With chapters on Wordsworth, Blake, Byron, Shelley, and Keats, Earle traces how Romantic lyrics mine this interminability to recover figurative emblems or masks of selfhood from experiences of its inevitable normative failure. This model is of particularly urgent value today when the costs of modern narcissism, economic exploitation, and political imperialism have come to include the normalization of torture, signature drone strikes, and climate change.

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Women Comedians and Body Politics
By Linda Mizejewski
University of Texas Press, 2014

Women in comedy have traditionally been pegged as either “pretty” or “funny.” Attractive actresses with good comic timing such as Katherine Hepburn, Lucille Ball, and Julia Roberts have always gotten plum roles as the heroines of romantic comedies and television sitcoms. But fewer women who write and perform their own comedy have become stars, and, most often, they’ve been successful because they were willing to be funny-looking, from Fanny Brice and Phyllis Diller to Lily Tomlin and Carol Burnett. In this pretty-versus-funny history, women writer-comedians—no matter what they look like—have ended up on the other side of “pretty,” enabling them to make it the topic and butt of the joke, the ideal that is exposed as funny.

Pretty/Funny focuses on Kathy Griffin, Tina Fey, Sarah Silverman, Margaret Cho, Wanda Sykes, and Ellen DeGeneres, the groundbreaking women comics who flout the pretty-versus-funny dynamic by targeting glamour, postfeminist girliness, the Hollywood A-list, and feminine whiteness with their wit and biting satire. Linda Mizejewski demonstrates that while these comics don’t all identify as feminists or take politically correct positions, their work on gender, sexuality, and race has a political impact. The first major study of women and humor in twenty years, Pretty/Funny makes a convincing case that women’s comedy has become a prime site for feminism to speak, talk back, and be contested in the twenty-first century.


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The Principles of Comedy Improv
Truths, Tales, and How to Improvise
Tom Blank
University of Iowa Press, 2023
The Principles of Comedy Improv is an authoritative handbook for beginners and experts alike. More than just entertainment, improv’s tenets enable you to change every moment of your life. Your guide is Tom Blank, who crystallizes two decades of experience to convey improv in unparalleled scope, depth, and fun.

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Renaissance Revivals
City Comedy and Revenge Tragedy in the London Theater, 1576-1980
Wendy Griswold
University of Chicago Press, 1986
Renaissance Revivals examines patterns in the London revivals of two English Renaissance theatre genres over the past four centuries. Griswold's focus on revenge tragedies and city comedies illuminates the ongoing interaction between society and its cultural products. No cultural object is ever created anew, she argues, but is instead constructed from existing cultural genres and conventions, the visions and professional needs of the artist, and the interests of an audience. Thus, every "new play" is in part a renaissance and every "revival" is in part an entirely new cultural object.

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Slapstick Modernism
Chaplin to Kerouac to Iggy Pop
William Solomon
University of Illinois Press, 2018
Slapstick comedy landed like a pie in the face of twentieth-century culture. Pratfalls percolated alongside literary modernism throughout the 1920s and 1930s before slapstick found explosive expression in postwar literature, experimental film, and popular music. William Solomon charts the origins and evolution of what he calls slapstick modernism --a merging of artistic experimentation with the socially disruptive lunacy made by the likes of Charlie Chaplin. Romping through texts, films, and theory, Solomon embarks on an intellectual odyssey from the high modernism of Dos Passos and Williams to the late modernism of the Beats and Burroughs before a head-on crash into the raw power of punk rock. Throughout, he shows the links between the experimental writers and silent screen performers of the early century, and explores the potent cultural undertaking that drew inspiration from anarchical comedy after World War II.

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Stand-up Comedy in Theory, or, Abjection in America
John Limon
Duke University Press, 2000
Stand-Up Comedy in Theory, or, Abjection in America is the first study of stand-up comedy as a form of art. John Limon appreciates and analyzes the specific practice of stand-up itself, moving beyond theories of the joke, of the comic, and of comedy in general to read stand-up through the lens of literary and cultural theory. Limon argues that stand-up is an artform best defined by its fascination with the abject, Julia Kristeva’s term for those aspects of oneself that are obnoxious to one’s sense of identity but that are nevertheless—like blood, feces, or urine—impossible to jettison once and for all. All of a comedian’s life, Limon asserts, is abject in this sense.
Limon begins with stand-up comics in the 1950s and 1960s—Lenny Bruce, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Mike Nichols, Elaine May—when the norm of the profession was the Jewish, male, heterosexual comedian. He then moves toward the present with analyses of David Letterman, Richard Pryor, Ellen DeGeneres, and Paula Poundstone. Limon incorporates feminist, race, and queer theories to argue that the “comedification” of America—stand-up comedy’s escape from its narrow origins—involves the repossession by black, female, queer, and Protestant comedians of what was black, female, queer, yet suburbanizing in Jewish, male, heterosexual comedy. Limon’s formal definition of stand-up as abject art thus hinges on his claim that the great American comedians of the 1950s and 1960s located their comedy at the place (which would have been conceived in 1960 as a location between New York City or Chicago and their suburbs) where body is thrown off for the mind and materiality is thrown off for abstraction—at the place, that is, where American abjection has always found its home.

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That Third Guy
A Comedy from the Stalinist 1930s with Essays on Theater
Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, Translated and edited by Alisa Ballard Lin, Foreword by Caryl Emerson
University of Wisconsin Press, 2018
This collection of theater writings by the Russian modernist Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky brings his powerful, wildly imaginative vision of theater to an English-language audience for the first time. The centerpiece is his play That Third Guy (1937), a farce written at the onset of the Stalinist Terror and never performed. Its plot builds on Alexander Pushkin's poem "Cleopatra," while parodying the themes of Eros and empire in the Cleopatra tales of two writers Krzhizhanovsky adored: Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw. In a chilling echo of the Soviet 1930s, Rome here is a police state, and the Third Guy (a very bad poet) finds himself in its dragnet. As he scrambles to escape his fate, the end of the Roman Republic thunders on offstage.

The volume also features selections from Krzhizhanovsky's compelling and idiosyncratic essays on Shakespeare, Pushkin, Shaw, and the philosophy of theater. Professionally, he worked with director Alexander Tairov at the Moscow Kamerny Theater, and his original philosophy of the stage bears comparison with the great theater theorists of the twentieth century. In these writings, he reflects on the space and time of the theater, the resonance of language onstage, the experience of the actor, and the relationship between the theater and the everyday. Commentary by Alisa Ballard Lin and Caryl Emerson contextualizes Krzhizhanovsky's writings.

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Those Were the Days
Why All in the Family Still Matters
Jim Cullen
Rutgers University Press, 2020

Between 1971 and 1979, All in the Family was more than just a wildly popular television sitcom that routinely drew 50 million viewers weekly. It was also a touchstone of American life, so much so that the living room chairs of the two main characters have spent the last 40 years on display at the Smithsonian. How did a show this controversial and boundary-breaking manage to become so widely beloved?

Those Were the Days is the first full-length study of this remarkable television program. Created by Norman Lear and produced by Bud Yorkin, All in the Family dared to address such taboo topics as rape, abortion, menopause, homosexuality, and racial prejudice in a way that no other sitcom had before. Through a close analysis of the sitcom’s four main characters—boorish bigot Archie Bunker, his devoted wife Edith, their feminist daughter Gloria, and her outspoken liberal husband Mike—Jim Cullen demonstrates how All in the Family was able to bridge the generation gap and appeal to a broad spectrum of American viewers in an age when a network broadcast model of television created a shared national culture.

Locating All in the Family within the larger history of American television, this book shows how it transformed the medium, not only spawning spinoffs like Maude and The Jeffersons, but also helping to inspire programs like Roseanne, Married... with Children, and The Simpsons. And it raises the question: could a show this edgy ever air on broadcast television today?


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Tim and Tom
An American Comedy in Black and White
Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen with Ron Rapoport
University of Chicago Press, 2008
As the heady promise of the 1960s sagged under the weight of widespread violence, rioting, and racial unrest, two young men--one black and one white--took to stages across the nation to help Americans confront their racial divide: by laughing at it.

Tim and Tom tells the story of that pioneering duo, the first interracial comedy team in the history of show business--and the last. Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen polished their act in the nightclubs of Chicago, then took it on the road, not only in the North, but in the still-simmering South as well, developing routines that even today remain surprisingly frank--and remarkably funny--about race. Most nights, the shock of seeing an integrated comedy team quickly dissipated in uproarious laughter, but on some occasions the audience’s confusion and discomfort led to racist heckling, threats, and even violence. Though Tim and Tom perpetually seemed on the verge of making it big throughout their five years together, they grudgingly came to realize that they were ahead of their time: America was not yet ready to laugh at its own failed promise.

Eventually, the grind of the road took its toll, as bitter arguments led to an acrimonious breakup. But the underlying bond of friendship Reid and Dreesen had forged with each groundbreaking joke has endured for decades, while their solo careers delivered the success that had eluded them as a team. By turns revealing, shocking, and riotously funny, Tim and Tom unearths a largely forgotten chapter in the history of comedy.

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The Time of Laughter
Comedy and the Media Cultures of Japan
David Humphrey
University of Michigan Press, 2023
From broadcast to social media, comedy plays a prominent role in Japan’s cultural landscape and political landscape. The Time of Laughter explores how comedy grew out of the early days of television to become a central force in shaping Japanese media over the past half-century. Comedy and its impact, David Humphrey argues, established a “time of laughter” in the media of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries in Japan. Through masterful interrogation of Japanese televisual archives and media discourse, Humphrey demonstrates that the unique temporality of laughter has had a profound role in the cultural atmosphere of Japan’s recent past. Laughter both complemented and absorbed the profound tensions and contradictions that emerged in Japanese television. Joyous and cacophonous, reaffirming and subverting, laughter simultaneously alienated and unified viewers. Through its exploration of the influence of comedy and the culture of laughter, The Time of Laughter presents a vibrant new take on Japan’s recent media history.

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The Tragedy and Comedy of Life
Plato's Philebus
University of Chicago Press, 1993

In The Tragedy and Comedy of Life, Seth Benardete focuses on the idea of the good in what is widely regarded as one of Plato's most challenging and complex dialogues, the Philebus. Traditionally the Philebus is interpreted as affirming the doctrine that the good resides in thought and mind rather than in pleasure or the body. Benardete challenges this view, arguing that Socrates vindicates the life of the mind over the life of pleasure not by separating the two and advocating a strict asceticism, but by mixing pleasure and pain with mind in such a way that the philosophic life emerges as the only possible human life.

Benardete combines a probing and challenging commentary that subtly mirrors and illuminates the complexities of this dialogue with the finest English translation of the Philebus yet available. The result is a work that will be of great value to classicists, philosophers, and political theorists alike.


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Tragedy Plus Time
National Trauma and Television Comedy
By Philip Scepanski
University of Texas Press, 2021

Following the most solemn moments in recent American history, comedians have tested the limits of how soon is “too soon” to joke about tragedy. Comics confront the horrifying events and shocking moments that capture national attention and probe the acceptable, or “sayable,” boundaries of expression that shape our cultural memory. In Tragedy Plus Time, Philip Scepanski examines the role of humor, particularly televised comedy, in constructing and policing group identity and memory in the wake of large-scale events.

Tragedy Plus Time is the first comprehensive work to investigate tragedy-driven comedy in the aftermaths of such traumas as the JFK assassination and 9/11, as well as during the administration of Donald Trump. Focusing on the mass publicization of television comedy, Scepanski considers issues of censorship and memory construction in the ways comedians negotiate emotions, politics, war, race, and Islamophobia. Amid the media frenzy and conflicting expressions of grief following a public tragedy, comedians provoke or risk controversy to grapple publicly with national traumas that all Americans are trying to understand for themselves.


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The Trick of Singularity
"Twelfth Night" and the Performance Editions
Laurie E. Osborne
University of Iowa Press, 1996

In this innovative union of textual studies and performance criticism, Laurie Osborne explores the important ways in which an apparently single, unproblematic text is in fact multiple and various. Through a close analysis of the performance editions of Twelfth Night, she argues that the complex interaction between text and performance establishes a comedy as a work realized within changing social and erotic constructions.

Because it appears in a relatively clean and dated version in the Folio, Twelfth Night seems to be exempt from arguments for variant texts—but there are significant and persistent variations represented in the performance editions. Osborne's careful reading of these provides a crucial bridge linking theatre history and textual criticism. She employs a wide variety of approaches and disciplines—Shakespearean and Renaissance studies, theatre history, gender studies, contemporary literary criticism, and cultural history—to provide a fresh and engaging yet rigorous view.

Although she focuses on Twelfth Night, Osborne's argument applies more broadly to the history of performance and criticism, including a chapter on video versions of the play. Widely read in Shakespearean and Renaissance scholarship, she employs her archival research in promptbooks, the publishing history of the plays, and the history of Shakespearean production to accomplish a major job of scholarly integration and analysis of Shakespearean drama in performance.


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TV Family Values
Gender, Domestic Labor, and 1980s Sitcoms
Alice Leppert
Rutgers University Press, 2019
During the 1980s, U.S. television experienced a reinvigoration of the family sitcom genre. In TV Family Values, Alice Leppert focuses on the impact the decade's television shows had on middle class family structure. These sitcoms sought to appeal to upwardly mobile “career women” and were often structured around non-nuclear families and the reorganization of housework. Drawing on Foucauldian and feminist theories, Leppert examines the nature of sitcoms such as Full House, Family Ties, Growing Pains, The Cosby Show, and Who's the Boss? against the backdrop of a time period generally remembered as socially conservative and obsessed with traditional family values. 

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Understanding The Simpsons
Animating the Politics and Poetics of Participatory Culture
Moritz Fink
Amsterdam University Press, 2021
Another book on The Simpsons? you might wonder. Isn’t the yellow cartoon troupe around the eponymous chaotic family somewhat worn-out? Perhaps you even ask yourself whether that nineties’ show is still on the air anyhow. Accolades such as "the best TV show of the twentieth century" or "the longest-running scripted series on American prime-time television" have elevated The Simpsons to the pop culture pantheon, while also suggesting the very vintage character of the program. But the label "The Simpsons" refers not just to a show that seems to belong to a bygone television era, it implies a rich narrative universe, including a set of iconic figures, familiar across continents and generations. Through lens of a transmedia studies, Understanding The Simpsons traces the franchise’s trajectory, from its original conception shaped by alternative media traditions to its astounding, long-lived impact as a cult phenomenon in popular culture. Examining the legacy of online fan forums and bootleg T-shirts from the show’s heyday in the early 1990s, as well as the meaning of The Simpsons in contemporary digital culture, this book demonstrates how one of the most popular comedy series of all time has redefined the intersections between the corporate media and participatory culture – and is alive indeed.

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West African Screen Media
Comedy, TV Series, and Transnationalization
Boukary Sawadogo
Michigan State University Press, 2019
The culturally rooted comic traditions of koteba theater and joking kinship have shaped West African comedies through various forms of humor. Débrouillardise (hustle) has turned the urban scene into a comic scene, a site for individual realization. To highlight the ever-growing production and success of comedies and other popular genres, West African Screen Media: Comedy, TV Series, and Transnationalization explores the distribution and reception of selected productions by emphasizing the public’s strong resonance with local stories and a character-based comedy involving popular comedians. In contrast to art films or “auteur films” that tend to be confined to the festival circuit, comedies and popular genres reach a far wider audience through local distribution networks, satellite TV channels, pirated DVDs, and online distribution platforms. This book engages a discussion of contemporary African media productions as seen outside the usual frameworks of cinéma engagé, the art house, or auteur approaches. While examining production and distribution through the lenses of proximity, appropriation, and transnationalization, this volume invites readers to reconsider the way genre films, as well as other kinds of productions, have been previously evaluated and in doing so addresses the critical neglect of comedy and other popular genres in the scholarship on African cinema.

front cover of Women and Laughter in Medieval Comic Literature
Women and Laughter in Medieval Comic Literature
Lisa Perfetti
University of Michigan Press, 2003
Exploring literary representations of women's laughter from the thirteenth through the sixteenth centuries, this volume offers an intriguing look into a culture of women's laughter, illustrating the many contexts that shaped the way women told jokes, as well as the ways their joking reflected their limited position in a society dominated by men. The book also considers the uses male authors made of the laughter of their fictional creations and the pleasures offered to both male and female audiences.
This study is the first to investigate women's laughter as a particular kind of "talking back" to medieval discourse on women, the subject of recent feminist medievalist studies. Female characters openly embrace women's laughter, associated with the body and castigated for its unruliness in conduct literature. Acknowledging that comic works were grounded in antifeminist traditions and that their female characters were in fact targets of laughter for male authors, this study argues that female characters who laugh and tell jokes also offer traces of how women might have used their laughter to respond to negative pronouncements about women in medieval culture. Both laughable and laughing, the female protagonists studied in this book will engage modern readers with their witty, sometimes bawdy jokes, allowing us to imagine the pleasures that medieval comic literature, so often labeled misogynous, offered to women as well as to men.
Lisa Perfetti is Assistant Professor of French, Muhlenberg College.

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