Perspectives of (and on) a Comedic Self

A Semiotics of Subjectivity in Stand-up Comedy

in Social Analysis
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  • 1 Aarhus University mkeisalo@cas.au.dk
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Abstract

Current stand-up comedy relies on original expression, requiring the performer to develop a unique and engaging comedic viewpoint. This calls for the comedian to be able to shift between different, often contradictory, perspectives on the world and on him/herself and transmit them to audiences. Based on ethnographic research in Finland, I show how the stand-up comedian performs as both sign and sign-maker. As a sign-maker, the comedian is the contextual ground, the taken-for-granted source and frame of the performed material. As a sign, the comedian is a figure the audience needs to interpret and understand as part of the performance. More generally, my aim is to shed light on how cultural concepts of self, subjectivity, and person are engaged in the processes of developing and performing stand-up comedy.

Contributor Notes

Marianna Keisalo is a Postdoctoral Researcher at Aarhus University taking part in the project “Digressions: A Cross-Disciplinary Study of the Indirectness of the Human Imagination.” Her work is focused on the semiotics of comedic performance. Viewing humor as intrinsic to the human condition, she analyzes its intuitive and spontaneous nature as well as its complexity and constraints. She received her doctorate at the University of Helsinki and has conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Sonora, Mexico, to study clowning in the rituals of the Yaquis and in Finland to study stand-up comedy. E-mail: mkeisalo@cas.au.dk

Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology

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