Twitter Wit

Social media activity is frequently condemned by commentators for fostering an ‘instrumental mode of grasping the world as a collection of objects for control, consumption and accumulation’ (Schwarz 85) thus engendering an exploitative attitude to creativity and sociability. For Ori Schwartz for instance, ‘this exploitation of the present’ leads to ‘the constant search for valuable… Continue reading Twitter Wit

Kara Walker’s burlesque memorial

Kara Walker’s Fons Americanus, a 13-metre fountain that references the legacies of the British empire and the transatlantic slave trade is the latest Turbine Hall commission at Tate Modern. Modelled on the Queen Victoria memorial outside Buckingham Palace, it is, as Alastair Sookes puts it, ‘a burlesque version’ of the original memorial, as well as a… Continue reading Kara Walker’s burlesque memorial

Milkman: humour in a traumatised society

Critics have frequently commended the humour of Anna Burns’s Milkman (2018), but beyond descriptions of the novel as ‘charmingly wry’ (New Yorker) or ‘darkly comic’ (The Telegraph), there has been little real insight into the part humour plays. This critical disinterest in humour - particularly in literature-  is widespread, partly because comedy has long been seen as a mere add-on or… Continue reading Milkman: humour in a traumatised society

Maurizio Cattelan at Blenheim Palace

The Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan is often described – rather dismissively – as a prankster. His new exhibition at Blenheim Palace, however, has been much applauded for revealing a deeper, more thoughtful aspect to his practice. While the disdain demonstrated in responses to his previous work as ‘mere’ jokes or one-liners reiterates a conception of comedy… Continue reading Maurizio Cattelan at Blenheim Palace

British drabness vs American glamour

The US sitcom Speechless is one of a groundswell of recent television shows with a disabled main character. Special on Netflix and Jerk on BBC3 were created by and star actors with cerebral palsy, while Don’t Forget the Driver on BBC 2, also has a central character with the condition. All are billed are comedies, although the latter is frequently very dark. It… Continue reading British drabness vs American glamour

Visually countering the complexly embodied disabled character

Watching three recent comedies which feature characters with disabilities, I notice a similarity in the techniques which seek to address a mainstream, able-bodied tension around the disabled body. Speechless is an ABC sitcom about a white family with a teenage son – J.J - with cerebral palsy, who needs an aide to communicate. Kenneth, his aide, whom… Continue reading Visually countering the complexly embodied disabled character

Terry Eagleton on humour

Terry Eagleton’s new book, Humour (2019), is going to prove to be indispensable reading, and one of its great strengths is the sustained analysis of the psychoanalytical mechanisms underlying humour. Using Freud’s insights into the capacity of humour to release ‘the psychic energy we normally invest in maintaining certain socially essential inhibitions’ (11), Eagleton develops his own… Continue reading Terry Eagleton on humour

Lucy McCormick: added trauma

Lucy McCormick’s recent Fringe show, Post Popular, reprises the comically narcissistic persona used in her 2016 show, Triple Threat, but this time with added trauma. ‘Lucy’ was more broadly comic in the first show, but now there are hints of a darker backstory: she mentions the death of her father and there are oblique references to an… Continue reading Lucy McCormick: added trauma

Richard Gadd, Baby Reindeer

Richard Gadd’s solo show, Baby Reindeer, which is just completing its run at the Edinburgh Fringe, has some similarities with Hannah Gadsby’s work. Both artists can only loosely be described as comedians at this point in their respective careers, given their preoccupation with explicitly traumatic material. Comedians have long used the often painful intimacies of… Continue reading Richard Gadd, Baby Reindeer

Hannah Gadsby and humourlessness

Hannah Gadsby, known primarily for her 2018 Netflix special, Nanette, has created another show which has just started touring. In The New Yorker, Hilton Als wrote a less than glowing review. Rather unfairly, given I haven’t seen the second show myself, his response has distilled some of my own suspicions. Justly commended for her attempts in Nanette to produce… Continue reading Hannah Gadsby and humourlessness