PERFORMING IMAGINATIVE IDENTITIES IN STAND-UP COMEDY

My presentation is based on my on-going post-doctoral ethnographic research on stand-up comedy in Helsinki, Finland. Stand-up comedy is often seen as rooted in the performer’s individual identity, which creates a somewhat paradoxical situation: the stand-up comedian is expected to be highly unique and individual, but has to also be relatable and quickly ‘readable’ for relatively heterogeneous audiences. The comedian needs to be very aware of how he/she comes across to audiences and learn to address ‘marked’ features that audiences may fixate on unless acknowledged. A common performance technique is to define oneself in relation to recognizable social types. At the same time, stand-up comedy often plays upon and subverts assumptions related to social identities. Especially in so-called confessional and observational styles of comedy it is often the perceived contradictions and gaps between ‘inner’ self and ‘outer’ person, as well as the comedian’s skill to see through and communicate a variety of perspectives, that provide material for laughs and create experiences of connection and understanding among comedians and audiences. How are individual subjectivities, social types, and different perspectives expressed, evoked, and related to each other? How are originality, uniqueness, and individuality conceptualized and performed in comedic ways? I will approach these questions through my own experiences of performing stand-up comedy, as well as examples from performances and views of other comedians. More generally, my aim is to shed light on how underlying cultural concepts and semiotic ideologies of self, social person, and identity are engaged in stand-up comedy performance.


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