Reading List: Frances


Queer identity politics

Stand-up comedy

Joke construction



Davies, Helen, and Sarah Ilott. Comedy Studies, vol. 9, no. 1, Apr. 2018.

Krefting, Rebecca. All Joking Aside : American Humor and Its Discontents. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014.

Lotz, Amanda. The Television Will Be Revolutionized. New York University Press, 2014.

Warner, Michael. The Trouble with Normal : Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life. Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press, 2000., 2000.


Academic Journal:

Camera Obscura (Duke University Press)


I started my reading list with a question often posed to lesbian comedians: why are there so many gay stand-up comics? The response is usually related to finding coping mechanisms for trauma and internalized homophobia. However, there are many types of trauma, but not many survivors of car accidents immediately decide to become stand-up comedians. So what specifically about being part of the queer community lends itself to comedy writing?

I began this process by creating a list of as many comedy-related academic sources I could find. Many of the articles I located were published by the journal Comedy Studies. One special issue of the journal was a published record of the proceedings at a conference on comedy in relation to gender and sexuality studies. The issue references a wider variety of topics, from toxic masculinity to classism, and provides a good framework for my research. Another source, The Television Will Be Revolutionized, deals with how the producers of television and media have changed over time. Although it does not directly address stand-up, it focuses on a gradual shift occurring in who controls content production.

I selected All Joking Aside: American Humor and its Discontents because of its focus on word choice, organization, and rhythm. The first four chapters provide a history of the development of stand-up comedy, while the final three chapters are close-readings of the work of three comedians (Robin Tyler, Micia Mosely, and Hari Kondabolu). The focus on form is rare in the scholarship around stand-up, so this source will be uniquely helpful.

Finally, to complete my reading list I wanted sources that focused more on queer literature than on stand-up specifically. Professor Kersh recommended several sources to me, including the first chapter of Michael Warner’s The Trouble with Normal. After reading other chapters of the book, I found it useful because it deals with the idea of addressing shame, which many stand-up comedians discuss. In addition, many jokes work because they question societal norms, and this entire book focuses around questioning assumptions made both in society as a whole and within the queer community itself.

After reading Iyasere’s comments about how many scholars focus on cultural context and ignore the form of Things Fall Apart, I want to see more examples of how film/television media can be analyzed without making the same mistake Iyasare describes. Reading more examples of film criticism will help me learn how to balance cultural contexts with close readings of the text. For this reason, I have chosen to analyze a year’s worth of editions of Camera Obscura, published by Duke University. Each article analyzes television, film, and media from a feminist perspective. The journal will not only inform me about feminist theory and media, but also could provide models of how I balance social contexts with analyzing the text itself.

“Boyish Girl Interrupted.” Performance by Tig Notaro, HBO, 22 Aug. 2015.

In terms of primary sources, I want to compare how comedians handle queerness differently, specifically looking at how the jokes themselves are constructed. Hannah Gadsby’s special Nanette begins with her arguing that she must “quit comedy” because the form is destructive to the queer identity. Wanda Sykes also addresses her queerness, but specifically in conversation with blackness. Tig Notaro often deals with comedy and queerness more indirectly. Her special Boyish Girl Interrupted in particular explores identity questions specifically related to femininity and the body. At one point she removes her shirt to show her double mastectomy scars, performing the rest of the special shirtless. Other examples that interest me are Margaret Cho, Cameron Esposito, and Sam Jay.