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Perspectives of (and on) a Comedic Self

A Semiotics of Subjectivity in Stand-up Comedy

Marianna Keisalo

Keywords: figure-ground reversal; Finland; humor; performance; person; semiotics; stand-up comedy; subjectivity

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.

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