So what’s your research area?

Comedy research

On average I get asked this question about once a week and every time I struggle to find the words to briefly outline what it is I am doing. I’m now two years in as part-time student and so now’s the time to really pin this stuff down.

Comedy/Feminism/Post-feminism/Gender/Marginalisation all pop up time and time again and often I can see I’ve lost the enquirer completely or they panic and tell me they ‘really like Sarah Millican’.

I went to an excellent Feminist Research Methodologies conference yesterday at Sheffield Hallam University (my home institution), which talked through some of the challenges facing feminist researchers. I  spent a lot of the day meeting new researchers and discussing the basics of my research area, and Jessica Ringrose’s emoji-embracing keynote inspired me to finally start blogging about my work.

As you have to start somewhere with a blog I thought I’d challenge myself to articulate what I am researching…..

(NOTE: But first what I’m not doing. This is NOT a research project investigating the ‘are women funny’ debate. My research takes this as a given, women are evidently funny.)

  • My research seeks to analyse the current state of the British stand-up comedy industry in relation to the increasing inclusion of female and feminist comedians. My argument is that in all aspects of our current society the voices and experiences of women are marginalised and I am researching how this is reflected within the U.K comedy circuit.
  • I am interviewing female (and those who identify as female) comedians and promoters currently working on the live circuit  to better understand their experiences. Do the individuals I am speaking to have experiences in common and how, when their identity is intertwined with ethnicity, sexuality, age (and other points of difference from the most powerful members of society – white, educated, males), do their experiences differ?
  • I am using a mixed-methods research approach, to gather information about the motivations and attitudes of audiences for women-only comedy nights/ festivals. Why do audiences go to women-only comedy line-ups? Do they think they are getting something there that they wouldn’t get from a mixed-gendered comedy line-up? This is to attempt to understand the impact of women-specific comedy organisations on the circuit.
  • I’ll also be looking at the work of specific female comedians in order to make arguments about the existence of both feminist and post-feminist comedy being evident on the current live circuit. The reason for including this is to look at the content of performances that are situated within the context I am researching (the current U.K live circuit).

Feminist research is inherently political, it seeks to forward the cause of equality. Comedy is an area that has been under-explored in terms of research into female experience and this is something I’d like to address through my work. To sum up then people still regularly say ‘women aren’t funny’ and for me that is only one dangerous step away from more problematic concepts about what women are capable of. We can do and be anything, we are equal.

It may seem crazy to focus on comedy when there are many overwhelming barriers facing the fight for equality in the U.K (appalling rape conviction statistics, lack or equal pay for equal work, the tampon tax). However, as comedy helps to maintain the status quo, by propping up what is considered ‘the norm’ and making other alternative structures or approaches seem laughable, for me its as good a place as any to start.

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