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VPAB07 Race and Representation in Comedy
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VPAB07 Equity and Diversity in Arts Organizations
University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC)

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  • 1. Race and Representation in Comedy Race and Representation in Comedy By: Patricia Holobow Ellen Bayley Adam Herst Natalie Sie Ariel Lin
  • 2. Two Truths and a Lie
  • 3. The Museum
    • How Museum’s express multiple viewpoints:
    • Many of our readings discuss the failure of irony as a postmodern strategy for the re-presentation of identities
  • 4. The Ambiguity of Irony
    • People can read irony literally and miss the author's intention
    • Irony assumes a certain amount of shared knowledge; a fairly high level of education and academic or cultural capital is often needed to grasp the various meanings; as such irony can be considered elitist and provides elite cultural producers with tools for protecting their own power
    • Irony is politically ambiguous since it works within and against a dominant tradition; for example, the self-conscious appropriation and undermining existing images and rhetoric such as "dark continent" or "spoils of war"; it is easily misunderstood
  • 5. The Ambiguity of Irony cont.
    • Irony both subverts and reinforces the very conventions it challenges; it may actually be making things worse rather than better
    • Irony without context may mean that students, as well as some adults, may misunderstand particularly if the literal reading conforms to a previously held biased view; people will often not read contextualizing text
    • Irony can be either "Cool", as described above, or it can use "humour and play"
  • 6. Our Argument
    • Since museums are typically seen as ‘high culture’, we wanted to explore a pop culture alternative – in this case comedy – and explore whether it is successful in accurately representing identities.
    • As we will demonstrate, because comedy is such a commercial art and so widely disseminated, it is not a effective vehicle for telling multiple stories because it depends on generality and stereotypes to appeal to the ‘masses.’
  • 7. Comedic Genres
    • The 3 types of comedy we will we looking at today are:
    • Sketch comedy (from The Onion Movie)
    • Stand-up comedy (Chris Rock and Russell Peters)
    • Sitcom (Trailer Park Boys)
  • 8. Sketch Comedy
    • Sketch comedy is what you typically see on Saturday Night Live. It consists of short comedic skits ranging anywhere from 30 seconds to about 10 minutes. It is usually performed by 2 or more people.
  • 9. Stand-Up Comedy
    • Stand-up comedy requires only one performer and can be performed in many different ways; using story-telling techniques, impersonations, etc.
  • 10. Sitcoms
    • Sitcom comedy is in the form of a 30 minute to one hour television program and tells the continuous story of one person or a group of people (Friends, Seinfeld).
  • 11. The Onion Movie
    • Based on the newspaper of the same name (The Onion) which is an American “news satire” organization.
    • It features satirical articles reporting on international, national, and local news as well as an entertainment newspaper and website known as The A.V. Club.
    • It claims a national print circulation of 690,000 and says 61 percent of its website readers are between 18 and 44 years old.
    • The organization has been creating satirical videos and posting them on the movie sharing website YouTube.
  • 12. Armed Gunman
    • Begins and ends with the stereotype that all Black men are criminals.
    • The fact that when he begins working for the bank he is still referred to as Armed Gunman and wears the stocking makes light of the fact that even though many Black people hold prominent positions in society, White people maintain the perception of the “black criminal”.
  • 13. Melissa Cherry
    • Stereotype of the stupid woman
    • Also the stereo type of the naïve woman who has been told that dressing proactively is the way to celebrate being a woman.
    • If taken at surface value, it sends the message that dressing provocatively brings you success.
  • 14. Gay Cruise
    • stereotype of the gay man as sex-hungry and only interested in having fun
    • portrays the gay lifestyle as carefree without complication
    • symbolizes the isolation of the gay lifestyle as something which must be kept at a distance from the hetero lifestyle (the isolation of the cruise is the only place where they can and “should ” be themselves)
  • 15. Satire
    • What is Satire?
    • Definition: Irony, sarcasm, or caustic wit used to attack or expose folly, vice, or stupidity.
    • History of Satire
  • 16. Satire and Stereotypes
    • These clips satirize the stereotypes that we are confronted with everyday.
    • Armed Gunman: Satirizing the stereotype of the black man as a criminal.
    • Melissa Cherry: Satire of pop stars (specifically Britney Spears) who is basically promoting sex to young girls and passing it off as the celebration of femininity.
    • Gay Cruise: Satire of the gay lifestyle.
  • 17. “ Arab is the New Nigger”: African American Comics Confront the Irony and Tragedy of September 11.
    • Article by Lanita Jacobs-Huey
    • She was curious to find out why the following observations got huge laughs or supportive applause from black audiences: 
    • Middle Easterners are the “new niggers.” All racist hatred will be directed at them instead of at black people. 
    • Blacks aren’t very concerned about 9/11 because they’ve been dealing  with white terrorists all their lives. 
    • If the planes had attacked Compton or Harlem, there would’ve been no news coverage of the event. 
  • 18. Article cont.
    • If there had been any street-wise black folks on the hijacked planes, we wouldn’t be in this mess, because they wouldn’t have been afraid of box cutters. 
    • White folks have angered bin Laden, and now black folks have to go fight the war. 
    • Al-Qaeda would turn over bin Laden in a second if the US government got them all hooked on crack. 
    • After John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo were charged with the sniper shootings in D.C., one comic lamented that “we niggers again.” 
  • 19. Jacobs-Huey Conclusion
    • These jokes reveal the weakness of the distinction between the “Us vs. Them” rhetoric that white America embraced after 9/11.
    • America itself is divided, and in this breach, comics address the ambivalent patriotism to be found in the African-American community. 
  • 20. Criticism of Jacobs-Huey
    • German Professor Arnold Heidseick suggested that Jacobs-Huey take into account the function of satire in comedic performance: satire often utilizes exaggeration and distortion in order to ask the audience to question social standards;
    • Satire often invites the audience to agree that there’s something wrong with the status quo.  
  • 21. Summary of Satirical Comedy
    • What these clips and the article show is that satirical comedy does not accurately represent identities because its purpose is to exaggerate for effect.
    • While the professor named above states that one effect could invite the audience to agree that something is wrong with the status quo (which would be the ideal reaction); however, to the less discerning audience member, satirical comedy could also serve to confirm negative personally-held pre-existing assumptions about other cultures.
  • 22.
    • Why do we laugh when we should be shocked and outraged?
  • 23. Stand-Up Comedy
    • Chris Rock
    • Russell Peters
    &
  • 24. Stand-Up Comedy Questions
    • What cultural groups does the comedian represent (i.e., with what groups does s/he identify)?
    • What cultural groups is the comedian portraying?
  • 25. How does his portrayal of those groups socially construct and/or dispel conceptions of race, gender, class, sexuality, nationality, etc.?
  • 26. How does the material and its delivery mesh with societal values (e.g., is it considered funny/serious, acceptable/unacceptable), and who gets to decide the threshold for those values?
  • 27. If the audience responds positively (i.e., laughs) to humor based on race, gender, sexuality, etc., what does that mean about the jokes, the groups who are the butt of jokes, and the everyday societal situations (i.e., our cultural framework) that give power to the jokes?
  • 28. When audience members laugh, but are not from members of the social group being roasted, at what point does this convey prejudice and discrimination?
  • 29. Trailer Park Boys
    • Trailer Park Boys is a popular Canadian comedic mockumentary television series that focused on the misadventures of a group of trailer park residents, some of whom are ex-convicts, living in a fictional trailer park located in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia .
    • The series was consistently shot in a mockumentary style (including the use of long takes), but often the camera crew became engrossed in the plot. On several occasions, the camera and boom mic operators are spoken to by the characters, and often end up becoming directly involved in the action.
    • All of this is intended to produce the feeling that these are real events that are happening to real people, when in reality, the show is loosely scripted and much of the dialog is ad-libbed from very basic plot points laid out beforehand.
  • 30. Discussion Comments and Questions
    • Do you identify with characters?
    • Who is constructed as the other in the show?
    • Why do they use the opening credits that they use?
  • 31. Discussion cont.
    • Who's getting to tell this story?
    • Who's story is real?
    • Can a white guy who really thinks he's black tell an authentic black story?
    • And what if he does have a black father?
    • Is gangsta rap an authentic black story?
  • 32. Last Thoughts on Trailer Park Boys
    • This production is funded by various levels of government. Does that mean the show has a responsibility to serve the public good by way of promoting equity and diversity?
  • 33. Conclusion
    • Comedy does not tell the multiple story, it tells the typically story. Since comedy is such a commercial art, if it were to tell the individual story, it would have the effect of an inside joke – it wouldn’t be funny because it wouldn’t be recognizable.
  • 34. Additionally
    • As we have seen with the examples of Chris Rock and Russell Peters, even though both comedians are making fun of their own cultures, they also fail at telling the multiple stories of their people.
    • One possible explanation for this could be that the commercial institution of comedy is run by the dominant culture which might influence comedians like Chris Rock and Russell Peters to base their comedy on subjects and stereotypes that are recognizable to White people and subversive to the Black culture.
  • 35. Where Do We Go From Here?
    • Regardless of what we say in this presentation, comedy is not going anywhere; it makes people laugh and it makes money. It’s a form of catharsis when it’s used to satirize our politicians, world disasters, celebrities and social norms; it takes away their power and gives it to the audience.
    • However, when comedy uses race as its material, it becomes a problem when viewers use it to justify their preconceived assumptions about other cultures. Ideally, comedy works as a common denominator from which we can begin to talk about diversity and equity.