This week I went along to the Comedy and Critical Thought: Laughter As Resistance? Conference. The event was a collaboration between the University of Kent’s Centre for Critical Thought, Centre for Comic and Popular Performance and the Aesthetics Research Centre. I also snuck a day off from marking on the Bank Holiday Monday and ambled about on a beach (see image above) – huge win for me.
One of the major draws of a conference like this is the chance to explore the diversity of approaches taken to humour and engage with people from such a wide range of disciplines. I expected many of the papers to be way out of my comfort zone but actually that was part of the fun. A reminder of just how much there is out there that you know nothing about is liberating – I am consciously incompetent of even more things than before.
Day one kicked off with James Williams discussing a Deleuzian critique of existing theories of humour (incl. Critchley and Freud). Although this felt a bit less like being thrown in at the deep end and more pushed into the shark tank at an aquarium, this presentation has enabled me to find a more definite articulation of one of the key aspects of my methodology. Although I am sure Williams’ presentation, which was discussing ‘Process Philosophy – How does critique operate when everything is connected?’ had much greater significance for others in attendance, I found what I did grasp illuminating and useful.
It reinforced for me why I have always been frustrated by a content analysis approach to comedy research. My decision to go beyond straightforward content analysis in my own methodology is precisely because by objectifying the humour (making it fixed and reducing it to words so it can be analysed) you remove the context, the before and after, and attempting to remove it from this context is unhelpful and naïve. As Williams put it (according to my hastily scribbled notes) we should be considering the multiplicity of these disruptive events of humour, getting beyond the binary found in the likes of Critchley and Freud (where only two different series are at play, the ‘norm’ and the ‘disruptive’, in terms of incongruity).
So basically the first keynote had me questioning my own existence. I can actually still feel my brain thinking. I’m not a fixed thing, I am a process and I am becoming. Mind blown.
Other highlights included Dr Shaun May’s discussion of the neurodiveristy movement’s use of humour in highlighting the flaws in neurotypical pathologising of autism and Asperger’s, and Dr Rosie White’s paper on the work of Kathy Burke in queering understandings of femininity. Having been inspired by Rosie’s work on Lizzie and Sarah (a TV comedy created by Jessica Hynes and Julia Davis) and her arguments about the presentation of feminist messages within it, it was great to see her present in person. All attendees also got the chance to have a peek through the current exhibition of comic art as part of the Uni’s Stand-Up Comedy Archive. There were many excellent images from patriarchy-smashing comics including the one below.
Another key aspect of attending this event was the opportunity to meet with other comedy researchers. I was lucky enough to be able to spend time talking through things with Kate Fox (based at University of Leeds) whose own practice-based research is exploring a similar theme to my own (decidedly non-practice-based) research. The opportunity to talk to other comedy researchers is invaluable. The chance to be challenged and reassured is helpful when, as a PhD student, you spend so much time fighting the fight solo. Kate is also conducting qualitative interviews and so discussing the complexities of the ethical aspects of this, and how this will fit alongside the analysis we are both conducting, made me feel a million times more energised for what is left to achieve.
So, all in all, a really engaging and worthwhile event for me. One that I am still processing.