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.
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.
Boggs: A Comedy of Values
Lawrence Weschler University of Chicago Press, 1999 Library of Congress HG353.W47 1999 | Dewey Decimal 332.4
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The Court of Comedy
Wilfred E. Major The Ohio State University Press, 2013 Library of Congress PA3265.M34 2013 | Dewey Decimal 882.01
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.
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.
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.
The Death of Comedy
Erich Segal Harvard University Press, 2001 Library of Congress PN1922.S44 2001 | Dewey Decimal 809.2523
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.
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.
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 also 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 will take its place as an essential reference for this iconic American act.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
Jane Austen and Comedy
Erin Goss Bucknell University Press, 2019 Library of Congress PR4037.J314 2019 | Dewey Decimal 823.7
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.
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.
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.
Old Masters: A Comedy
Thomas Bernhard University of Chicago Press, 1992 Library of Congress PT2662.E7A7513 1992 | Dewey Decimal 833.914
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 YorkReview of Books.
"Bernhard is one of the masters of contemporary European fiction."—George Steiner
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.
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.
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.
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.
Winner of the 2019 John Leo and Dana Heller Award for the Best Work in LGBTQ Studies from the PCA
The Queer Fantasies of the American Family Sitcom examines the evasive depictions of sexuality in domestic and family-friendly sitcoms. Tison Pugh charts the history of increasing sexual depiction in this genre while also unpacking how sitcoms use sexuality as a source of power, as a kind of camouflage, and as a foundation for family building. The book examines how queerness, at first latent, became a vibrant yet continually conflicted part of the family-sitcom tradition.
Taking into account elements such as the casting of child actors, the use of and experimentation with plot traditions, the contradictory interpretive valences of comedy, and the subtle subversions of moral standards by writers and directors, Pugh points out how innocence and sexuality conflict on television. As older sitcoms often sit on a pedestal of nostalgia as representative of the Golden Age of the American Family, television history reveals a deeper, queerer vision of family bonds.
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.
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.
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. As the first study of its kind, Stand-Up Comedy in Theory, or, Abjection in America will appeal to a wide audience including those interested in cultural studies, Jewish studies, gender and queer theory.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.