How To Do Things With Jokes: Relocating the Political Dimension of Performance Comedy

Chow, Broderick D.V. (2010) How To Do Things With Jokes: Relocating the Political Dimension of Performance Comedy. Doctoral thesis, The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London.


This thesis examines the political dimension of comedy in performance through a practice-as-research project incorporating elements of stand-up comedy, relational art, and participatory performance. In the wake of the depoliticisation of live performance comedy in Britain after the incorporation into the mainstream of the agit-prop driven Alternative comedy of the 1980s, I question whether stand-up in particular can have a political efficacy greater than raising awareness or representing a political struggle. Satirical comedy, comedy of Carnival, and more recently, comedies of ‘transgression,’ are held as paradigmatic of comedy’s generic political dimension, and contemporary discourse celebrates the comedian’s ability to negotiate lines of offense or taste. Opposing this view, I argue that this ‘Canivalesque logic’ is incompatible with the ideological conditions of global capitalism. A ‘radical democratic’ comedy necessitates a focus on the relational and affective dimensions of comedy performance. Following from this theoretical framework, this thesis progresses through three phases of experimental practice. I begin by interrogating and expanding my existing practice as a ‘circuit comedian.’ Next, audience-performer relationships become the site of interrogation, and I engage in two projects influenced by participatory performance and relational aesthetics. The third phase returns to stand-up comedy, coloured by my previous experiments. This project results in a model of comic performance as embodied formalist critique of ideology. The results of this project contributes to a way of reading comedy performance, as well as to discourse about the politics of theatre and performance. It is also provides an exegesis of comic techniques and a sustained analysis of my practice as a comedian and artist. Overall, this project intends to escape the false choice faced by the politically-minded comedian today: to paraphrase a well-known Marx Brothers joke, when given the choice between commenting on the world or changing it, we should answer: ‘Yes, please!’


Submitted Version - PDF (Thesis)
Submitted Version - Video (MP4) (Akira California)
Submitted Version - Video (MP4) (Homework for Heroes)
Submitted Version - Video (MP4) (Circuit)
Submitted Version - Video (MP4) (Dangerology Slideshow)
Submitted Version - Video (MP4) (Dangerology : Full version)
Submitted Version - Video (MP4) (Easy, Tiger! : Scratch performance)
Submitted Version - Video (MP4) (Easy, Tiger! : One-to-one)
Submitted Version - Video (MP4) (Easy, Tiger! : The festival of September 2009)

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