Theory and (Stand-up) Comedy

full name / name of organization: 
CR: The New Centennial Review
contact email: 

Essays are invited for a special issue of CR: The New Centennial Review, that consider the relation of comedy and theory, especially in relation to contemporary stand-up comedy.

Is it possible to theorize humor and comedy in a new way? Or, to put the question differently, is our moment marked by a certain unmistakable conjuncture of theory and comedy?

On the one hand, a number of notable texts have appeared in recent decades that theorize humor and comedy from radically different places on the philosophic spectrum (for example, books by Simon Critchley, Graham Harman, Alenka Zupančič and others). A certain Nietzchean "laughter," inflected in particular by the readings of Bataille and Derrida, remains among the central themes of the thought known as deconstruction. On the other hand, in the same years a so-called "stand-up" comedy has emerged as a major form of contemporary cultural expression across the globe: one that unfolds not just in traditional live performances and recordings, but also in podcasts, websites, Twitter feeds, and a myriad other digital forms. Performances and recordings by stand-up comedians (a phrase the Oxford English Dictionary records for the first time as recently as 1966) are now reviewed as an independent category in the New York Times, the paper of record.

It has also been widely observed (and sometimes deplored), that the line between political comedy and politics itself is increasingly blurred, and once again on a global basis — as one might reference not only with obvious American examples like The Daily Show but also figures such as Abdi Marshale, the Somali stand-up comic assassinated in August 2012, or Dieudonné M'bala M'bala, French stand-up comedian and activist who has been accused of inciting anti-Semitism.

How and why has comedy seemingly become one of the fundamental modes of cultural expression of our times: at once a subject of intense renewed theoretical speculation and a cultural (or even quasi-political) force across the globe?