Because I Tell a Joke or Two: Comedy, Politics, and Social Difference

Because I Tell a Joke or Two: Comedy, Politics, and Social Difference

Because I Tell a Joke or Two: Comedy, Politics, and Social Difference

Because I Tell a Joke or Two: Comedy, Politics, and Social Difference

Synopsis

Because I Tell a Joke or Two explores the complex relationship between comedy and the social differences of class, region, age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and nationhood. It shows how comedy has been used to sustain, challenge and to change power relationships in society. The contributors, who include Stephen Wagg, Mark Simpson, Stephen Small, Paul Wells and Frances Williams, offer readings of comedy genres, texts and performers in Britain, the United States and Australia. The collection also includes an interview with the comedian Jo Brand.Topics addressed include:* women in British comedies such as Butterflies and Fawlty Towers * the life and times of Viz , from Billy the Fish to the Fat Slags * queer readings of Morecambe and Wise , the male double act* the Marx Brothers and Jewish comedy in the United States* black radical comedy in Britain* The Golden Girls , Cheers , Friends and American society.

Excerpt

This book has emerged from the familiar dialogue between personal preoccupation, political conviction and circumstances, as I will briefly explain.

For good or ill, and whether I intended it or not, I came from an early age to see myself as someone that others found funny. This experience made for a certain introspection. It was easy, for example, to feel that the facility for getting a laugh was the only aspect of me that might be of interest to the outside world. This would induce some panic if the expected laughter failed either to materialise, or to stop, in the right places. More importantly, my experience of humour itself became, and remained, ambivalent. Watching a comedy show on TV or listening to a comedian, I would find myself laughing, certainly, but more often judging, comparing or analysing, from the standpoint of a fellow producer. Comedians, especially the male ones, are often brittle creatures and natural competitors, liable to feel that a laugh gained by a fellow performer is a cheap one, or that a joke which was told well could nevertheless have been delivered better, or whatever. Besides, for such people ('us', as I felt, deep down) comedy is work and work, for most people, is not a laughing matter: I remember once telling a comedian friend one of the funniest jokes I'd heard in a while and telling it, I felt, very well-he gave a solemn nod, recognising the joke's merits, and replied simply: 'Good one'.

In the late 1970s I made a good friend who at the time was a teacher and playwright but who subsequently became a stand-up comedian. Through him I met and befriended other performers and these associations enabled me to organise some comedy shows of my own. I compered the shows myself, perhaps thinking that this was the logical extension into the world of work of a role I was already used to playing socially. I wrote my own material for these shows and this material was often so witty that it flew over the head of every member of the audience. True, in one show I got a couple of laughs as well but I knew now I should settle for being neither in, nor wholly out of, comedy. Writing about comedy, politically

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