Comedians, Comedy research, Gender

Some Whitstable sunshine

This week I went along to the Comedy and Critical Thought: Laughter As Resistance? Conference. The event was a collaboration between the University of Kent’s Centre for Critical Thought, Centre for Comic and Popular Performance and the Aesthetics Research Centre. I also snuck a day off from marking on the Bank Holiday Monday and ambled about on a beach (see image above) – huge win for me.

One of the major draws of a conference like this is the chance to explore the diversity of approaches taken to humour and engage with people from such a wide range of disciplines. I expected many of the papers to be way out of my comfort zone but actually that was part of the fun. A reminder of just how much there is out there that you know nothing about is liberating – I am consciously incompetent of even more things than before.

Day one kicked off with James Williams discussing a Deleuzian critique of existing theories of humour (incl. Critchley and Freud). Although this felt a bit less like being thrown in at the deep end and more pushed into the shark tank at an aquarium, this presentation has enabled me to find a more definite articulation of one of the key aspects of my methodology. Although I am sure Williams’ presentation, which was discussing ‘Process Philosophy – How does critique operate when everything is connected?’ had much greater significance for others in attendance, I found what I did grasp illuminating and useful.

It reinforced for me why I have always been frustrated by a content analysis approach to comedy research. My decision to go beyond straightforward content analysis in my own methodology is precisely because by objectifying the humour (making it fixed and reducing it to words so it can be analysed) you remove the context, the before and after, and attempting to remove it from this context is unhelpful and naïve. As Williams put it (according to my hastily scribbled notes) we should be considering the multiplicity of these disruptive events of humour, getting beyond the binary found in the likes of Critchley and Freud (where only two different series are at play, the ‘norm’ and the ‘disruptive’, in terms of incongruity).

So basically the first keynote had me questioning my own existence. I can actually still feel my brain thinking. I’m not a fixed thing, I am a process and I am becoming. Mind blown.

Other highlights included Dr Shaun May’s discussion of the neurodiveristy movement’s use of humour in highlighting the flaws in neurotypical pathologising of autism and Asperger’s, and Dr Rosie White’s paper on the work of Kathy Burke in queering understandings of femininity. Having been inspired by Rosie’s work on Lizzie and Sarah (a TV comedy created by Jessica Hynes and Julia Davis) and her arguments about the presentation of feminist messages within it, it was great to see her present in person. All attendees also got the chance to have a peek through the current exhibition of comic art as part of the Uni’s Stand-Up Comedy Archive.

Another key aspect of attending this event was the opportunity to meet with other comedy researchers. I was lucky enough to be able to spend time talking through things with Kate Fox (based at University of Leeds) whose own practice-based research is exploring a similar theme to my own (decidedly non-practice-based) research. The opportunity to talk to other comedy researchers is invaluable. The chance to be challenged and reassured is helpful when, as a PhD student, you spend so much time fighting the fight solo. Kate is also conducting qualitative interviews and so discussing the complexities of the ethical aspects of this, and how this will fit alongside the analysis we are both conducting, made me feel a million times more energised for what is left to achieve.

So, all in all, a really engaging and worthwhile event for me. One that I am still processing.

Write Place/Write Time

Comedians, Comedy research, Teaching

A few weeks ago I was invited to host a table discussion on stand-up comedy at York Literature Festival. It was at late notice but no-one had dropped out or been injured so I gladly accepted. I also ensured it was crystal clear that I was a comedy researcher, not a comedian, to make sure it didn’t turn into a stress dream I’ve had – where that mistake has been made and I’m instructed to do a ‘tight five’ rather than discuss my research.

One of the major draws was the fact that it was back at York St John University (the artist formerly known as York St John College), which I attended as an undergraduate. The chance to swan about the campus I’d left ten years earlier made it an easy decision. Three comedians (also with YSJ connections) performed their material and then post-interval I chaired the discussion about their work, and due to it being a literature festival, their writing.


On the night it was illuminating to see how different everyone’s writing approach was. A significant part of my research has been interviewing stand-up comics and promoters but most of the conversations have centred on the performative aspects of comedy rather than the writing side of things.  For the Q&A (or “table discussion” which sounds odd as there was clearly no table… see the above table-less image)  I had to make a conscious effort to bring it round to the writing side of things and ask questions that, even though I suspected the answers, might be of interest to the literary audience. In several instances I had to play devil’s advocate (an all round emphatic and predictable group “no” to the question “Can you tell from the page what will work in the performance?” provides an example here).

Overall it was a really enjoyable experience, a chance to see a diverse range of approaches and to discuss the process of page to stage. Talking to the comics Richard Massara, Geneva Rust-Orta and Seb Bloomfield about their work got me thinking about how I would respond if anyone ever asked me how I write (without simply shrugging or making the comment “solely by the grace of spellcheck go I”).

Their ability to talk eloquently about how they do what they do made me think about how I would cope if a poor-man’s Kirsty Walk was asking me the questions, rather than the other way round (not as well as they did I suspect). This event just happened to fall in the week when I was both giving tutorials to a group of students on writing their assignments and also marking the work of 35 other students (a loooong week).

I can pretty much boil my hintz and tipz (the z’s disguise the tedium of the following list) down to the following. These were the best tips people have given me over the years and thank the lord they did because they are gold.


  1. Break it down: Often students flip out over the word count – ‘How will I write 1,000/2,000/4,000 words on X or Y?’. The answer here is really that you need to think about writing a smaller amount of words on sub points or chapters that answer the overall question. A blank piece of paper is terrifying so start with a good old fashioned list of things you’ll cover and go from there. When these smaller points are put together, they build up to the word count. This is the only way I can conceive of writing the 80,000-100,000 word thesis I’ll be cracking out for my Ph.D. When looking at the question think the following; How can I break this down? What are the points I need to cover to answer this question? Then make a list of the points you want to make and allocate a word count to each section – then kill them off one by one like a sniper.
  2. Read it out: I am a product of my time. Without technology and the advent of spellcheck there is just no way I would have any of my current qualifications. However spellcheck is both friend and foe. Autocorrect often swoops on in there to deal with a badly spelt word, replacing it with a completely different word. Not just the their/there/they’re conundrum but a whole host of other words are waiting out there to be messed with by spellcheck’s warped sense of humour  – my greatest ‘frienemy’ (it didn’t like that at all). The only way to catch these ‘wrong words’, to check it flows AND (crucially) that it makes sense is to READ IT OUT LOUD. Yes you will sound cray cray but it is worth it.
  3. Put down the breadcrumbs: One of the things that seems to stump people between A-Level and undergraduate level is referencing. They’ve not done it before and it seems super intimidating. Eventually we all get used to it and reference on autopilot but by far the best approach, even when you have cracked it, is to reference as you go along. Referencing not only ensures you aren’t plagiarising other people’s work, but it also means that your readers (and your marker) can follow the trail of academic breadcrumbs back to where these ideas originate – from the witch’s gingerbread house of your essay, back via the breadcrumbs to the woodcutters cottage where the original ideas live. (In this metaphor there are no birds following behind you eating said breadcrumbs – for the Hansle and Gretle purists out there). If you leave referencing until the end it is a huge pain and much harder to get right than if you do it incrementally whilst you go along.

I am not an expert on writing and I don’t find writing easy AT ALL but these tips are what I swear by and if they also help someone else out then great. Now I just need to follow them and crack on with writing my research up.

Pens down.




A Sorry State of Affairs

Comedy research, Gender, self-deprecation, Teaching


I’ve been so busy but I have finally managed to find some time to draft a response to a comedy conference’s call for papers. I’ve decided that I’ll focus on self-deprecation, a topic I’m exploring as part of my research and something that really winds me up. (fingers crossed it gets accepted)

As a general rule I find it very difficult to listen to people being negative about themselves, not just in terms of comic performance but in my day to day interactions with people too. I think the amazing comedian Kristen Schaal sums this habit up best and funniest….


Hearing people talk negatively about themselves, be it because of their weight, their appearance or some perceived flaw they think they have, makes me feel that I should be apologising for that fault as well, as I too deviate from the current idealised version of a woman. I don’t like being made to feel like I’m being invited to collude in that negative thinking and I certainly don’t want to reinforce how you feel about yourself, firstly because I don’t think it’s a true reflection of your worth as a human being (we are all our own harshest critics), and secondly because I don’t like the way it makes me feel like I should be ashamed of aspects of myself either. I like myself just fine thanks very much.

Unfortunately self-deprecation in day to day life is a slippery thing to pin down. I do my absolute best not to put myself down or engage in negative chat about myself. However, women have historically used self-deprecation to appease those who struggle with the idea of women with power – power over their own bodies, power in the world of work or power over their own opinions. By lowering our own status in this way, we have been acquiescing to the needs of others (and others’ egos) and somehow softening the challenge to another’s sense of self. Why would we ever want to come across as less than our best selves? Unfortunately it’s so ingrained in our culture that we do it without thinking, as just a way we communicate about ourselves to others. This is obviously then reinforced and emphasised by the critique of women in the mainstream media and god-awful women’s magazines.

So having said all this I have noticed that it is a really really hard habit to break and is not at all straightforward. I’ll give an example  – my new year’s resolution this year was to apologise less. Sounds odd right, but my constant need to apologise was getting out of hand. The number of emails I send that start with the sentence ‘sorry to bother you’ or ‘I know you must be busy but’ is OFF THE CHART.

I seem to fall into the ‘sorry’ trap in correspondence more so than in person and also when I am really busy and don’t have chance to check myself (I have sent at least 2 emails this week which I wish I could recall and delete the numerous apologies therein). I think in the real world I can hear myself about to say the words and pull myself back from the edge just in time. Plus in-person there’s more room for nuance and context than in stone cold black and white text. By apologising I’m not really self-deprecating in the same way, I’m not saying there is a flaw in me, but I am creating the idea that someone else’s time or feelings about something should take precedent over mine. Somehow I am in the wrong for asking for their help or requiring attention. I draw your attention to the interesting work of comedian, writer and director of the Bath Literature Festival  Viv Groksop in an article she penned for the Guardian last year about women and the word sorry (here).

Last year I wrote the following in an email to my PhD supervisors. I sent them through my RF2 report (a major/ stressful part of the process of submitting my work) to get their feedback in advance of the assessment. When one mentioned she was printing it out, as not to read it from the screen, I responded with a textbook

“Yeah it is a bit of an epic, sorry”

ARRRGGHHHH. This was in regard to a piece of work I had worked my absolute hardest on – seriously why would I do that?

Luckily for me another one of my supervisors immediately shot back with

‘never apologise for hard work’

They called me out on it and rightly so. When I am finished there are going to be plenty of people that’ll want to tear that work down (haters gonna hate) and I should be proud of the good work I do – not apologise to people for having to read it. Be self-critical sure, reflect on what it is you are doing, but self-deprecation is not helpful to anyone. I am going to do my absolute best to not only stop ‘sorry-ing’ all over the shop but also to check others too. I have so far achieved this once this week when one of my students started an email with ‘Sorry it’s probably a dumb question’ to which I responded ‘Don’t apologise and don’t feel bad for asking questions – it’s how we all learn stuff’.

Elton got it wrong – annoyingly sorry seems to be the easiest word.





That’s what I’m talking about! (AKA Aisling Bea Take a Bow)

Comedians, Comedy research, Gender

I spend a lot of time talking about comedy panel shows. I’ll be giving a lecture on them in a few weeks time to my very lucky second year students. Part of my research has been to discuss this very topic (amongst other things) with stand-up comedians and comedy audiences to understand the role these programmes play in the wider U.K comedy industry.

There has been huge amount of media coverage about lack of diversity on panel shows in the wake of the BBC’s announcement in 2014 that it would include more women in its comedy programming (see here). This came about because the BBC Trust identified that the comedy output (especially panel shows) were overwhelmingly male. There are obvious failings on many levels of diversity in lots of aspects of public life, but in this instance the BBC were focused on lack of gender parity, and the (then) Director of Television Danny Cohen pledged publicly to put an end to all-male panel shows (in an interview with The Observer, see here). This announcement garnered a significant level of attention in the media with even Newsnight covering it (with Paxman patronisingly referring to the assembled panel of commentators on the subject as ‘testicle free’).

Often some of the sticking points in my conversations with interviewees is what exactly will be different if we include more women in these formats. Will the comedy change? (the idea that female comedians make jokes solely for women still casts its long shadow over any discussions of this nature) How will these formats accommodate women? Will any woman do, or does the fact they are a comedian make a difference? I feel very strongly about the latter as do many people I speak to – having female comics on the panel shows means that they have the SKILLS to be as funny as the male comedians who are team captains or recurring panellists – add in a female actor, newsreader, journalist etc. and it’s very unlikely they will be hilarious (because their talents are elsewhere), reinforcing the ‘men are funnier than women’ stereotype by default. This is also unnecessary as there are loads of female comics that would be awesome on panel shows (see the megalist of people I’ve seen recently).

But now in 2016 and we might actually be starting to see the outcome of this new policy introduced back in 2014. Insert Name Here, a new BBC2 panel show, has a female host, Sue Perkins (sans Mel) and is clearly making a concerted effort to be more inclusive (although as always these things take time). The show that aired on Monday 25th Jan (at 10pm on BBC2) contained within it something that had me punching the air… Aisling Bea please take a bow!

When marriage was flippantly referred to as the best day of a woman’s life (in this case the life of J.K Rowling) Bea swooped in immediately to call ‘Bullshit!’. (18mins in to the episode which will be found here for a little bit whilst it’s still on iPlayer). Her take down of this was not only funny but made the point that this is exactly the kind of old school patriarchal stuff we don’t even spot any more. Her comment, delivered with an incredulous tone – ‘can I just pick bones with ‘the greatest day for a woman, the day you can legally give yourself over to a man?’ – exposed the way that a lot of comedy plays in to and reinforces traditional norms, especially gendered expectations of people.

She then stuck her tongue out at THE MAN. I actually whooped out loud.

So this is it guys, this is what I mean when I say a diversified outlook on life. No the formats don’t have to change, women are more than capable of being just as aggressive or forthcoming as men on panel shows, and no it doesn’t mean it’ll be less funny – what it means is that alternative viewpoints about life will be considered and broadcast. It will impact positively because the humour will be diversified and more reflective of the diversity of our population (ideally longer term in all aspects of diversity – ethnicity, sexuality, ability, age also). Outdated ideas will be challenged – challenged through comedy, rather than reinforced through comedy – which is so often the default setting for panel shows.

If you ever get chance to see Aisling live, do it.



Blue Blue Electric Blue

Heroes, Uncategorized



I’m not a crier as general rule. I’m pretty stoic and (I’d like to think) good in a crisis. So no one was more shocked than I to find myself crying hysterically at a bus stop the day Bowie died.

Post bus-meltdown I arrived at work and had to immediately go to the bathroom to pull myself together. Red eyed and emotionally exhausted before 9am. Happy Monday everyone. I spent the day avoiding eye contact, the topic, Facebook, Twitter and my phone as messages from my friends and family arrived… after work the mothership went straight in for the kill texting ‘the starman has become a star for real’ – Jesus!



I can’t really remember a time before liking Bowie. I can only imagine my route in was through the Labyrinth. My dad is a big music fan and I suspect he saw this as an opportunity to explain who Bowie was. Not just Jareth, the Goblin King, but a musical genius too. I distinctly remember at the age of about 13 or 14 Dad returning from Russia with a Bowie best of CD for me (with all the text in cyrillic) as a present…along with a book on Brecht (I was an odd child) and that was pretty much that. I was hooked.

Every important event of my teenaged and adult life has been set to the sound of his body of work. Every argument, every low moment, every setback made bearable by Bowie’s words, Bowie’s voice.


Memories flutter about in my head when I think of certain songs…

*Freezing to death and avoiding the rain at a bus stop on the Wandsworth Road to the sound of Modern Love awaiting the interview for what would turn out to be my first graduate job. (I am always ridiculously early for things)

*Making a badly timed Bowie joke in a GCSE drama lesson (our teacher had a stutter and was showing us a film called Changes, thus without thinking I, in my best Bowie voice, belted out ‘CH CH CH CHANGES’ to the horror of my classmates who were confused by my uncharacteristic scathing and brazen piss take of our kindly tutor.)

*Listening to my Bowie ‘Pep talk’ playlist on repeat before being interviewed to get accepted as a PhD student. Nothing makes me ready for action like Sound and Vision.

*Crying with laughter when watching the Flight of the Conchords sing ‘Bowie’s in Space’.


I think his death effected me so much as his music was such a formative thing for me. It was ok to be different, he was different, and this gave me confidence to be myself when that wasn’t always the path of least resistance. I’m sure this is a factor in why so many people feel this loss so keenly.

Bowie’s in space – but his work is still here and that is going to live forever.



My year in lists

film, Gender

Last January I spotted a link to a list of everything director Steven Soderbergh had watched and read in 2014 (Click here). It intrigued me to see that a) he had bothered to keep a list (in fact he’d been doing this for some time) and that b) his viewing habits were pretty run of the mill (we both love Girls, House of Cards and Veep #Besties). So I thought I’d try the same… in this notebook with an elephant wearing a beret on it (it felt like the right choice).



I decided to keep track of just the films I watched for 2015 (I thought I’d start small and build up to a list of everything I culturally consume).

…..So here is a list of all the films I saw in 2015.

1) I watched 84 films in total (a few instances of multiple viewings – mostly stuff I was teaching with)
2) I watched 38 films in a cinema – indicated with a (C)
3) I re-watched some that I’d seen before – Indicated with a (B4)


1/1/15 – Bambi (1942) Algar, Armstrong et. al.(B4)
2/1/15 – Birdman (2014) Alejandro G. Iñárritu (C)
3/1/15 – Run Lola Run (1998) Tom Tykwer (B4)
4/1/15 – Thelma and Louise (1991) Ridley Scott
5/1/15 – Orlando (1992) Sally Potter
6/1/15 – Lost Highway (1997) David Lynch
9/1/15 – Torn Curtain (1966) Alfred Hitchcock
10/1/15 – Enough Said (2013) Nicole Holofcener
11/1/15 – Foxcather (2014) Bennett Miller (C)
22/1/15- Educating Rita (1983) Lewis Gilbert (B4)
28/1/15 – Thelma and Louise (1991) Ridley Scott (C) (B4)
29/1/15 – Pleasantville (1998) Gary Ross
30/1/15 – Chef (2014) Jon Favreau
31/1/15 – Ex Machina (2015) Alex Garland (C)
3/2/15 – Our Idiot Brother (2011) Jesse Peretz
4/2/15 – Torn Curtain (1966) Alfred Hitchcock (C) (B4)
7/2/15- Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948) Max Ophüls (B4)
10/2/15 – Rashômon (1950) Akira Kurosawa (B4)
20/2/15 – Blood Simple (1984) Joel and Ethan Cohen
25/2/15 – Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948) Max Ophüls (C) (B4)
28/1/15 – When Harry Met Sally (1989) Rob Reiner
28/2/15 – It Follows (2014) David Robert Mitchell (C)
1/3/15 – 8 1/2 (1963) Federico Fellini (B4)
1/3/15 – Gravity (2013) Alfonso Cuarón
4/3/15 – 8 1/2 (1963) Federico Fellini (C) (B4)
7/3/15 – The Red and The White (1967) Miklós Jancsó
11/3/15 – The Red and the White (1967) Miklós Jancsó (C) (B4)
15/3/15 – Still Alice (2014) Richard Glatzer (C)
17/3/15 – Locke (2013) Steven Knight
18/3/15 – Pleasantville (1998) Gary Ross (C) (B4)
21/3/15 – Mulholland Drive (2001) David Lynch (B4)
23/3/15 – Psycho (1960) Alfred Hitchcock (B4)
25/3/15 – Mulholland  Drive (2001) David Lynch (C) (B4)
3/4/15 – While We’re Young (2014) Noah Baumbach (C)
4/4/15 – The King’s Speech (2010) Tom Hooper (B4)
5/4/15 – Cinderella (2015) Kenneth Branagh (C)
6/4/15 – A Long Way Down (2014) Pascal Chaumeil
10/4/15 – The Ninth Gate (1999) Roman Polanski
11/4/15 – Wreck it Ralph (2012) Rich Moore (B4)
11/4/15 – Atari: Game Over (2014) Zac Penn
12/4/15 – Carrie (1976) Brian De Palma
18/4/15 – The King’s Speech (2010) Tom Hooper (C) (B4)
22/4/15 – Orlando (1992) Sally Potter (C)
2/5/15 – Whip It (2009) Drew Barrymore
4/5/15 – Force Majeure (2014) Ruben Östlund (C)
10/5/15 – Girlhood (2014) Celine Sciamma (C)
16/5/15 – Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) Olivier Assayas (C)
17/5/15 – Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013) Declan Lowney
19/5/15 – Begin Again (2013) John Carney
30/5/15 – Carnival of Souls (1962) Herk Harvey (C)
31/5/15 – Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) Elizabeth Banks (C)
13/6/15 – Jurassic World (2015) Colin Trevorrow (C)
14/6/15 – London Road (2015) Rufus Norris (C)
19/6/15 – The Two Faces of January (2014) Hossein Amini
19/6/15 – Mr Holmes (2015) Bill Condon (C)
25/6/15 – The Wicker Man (1973) Robin Hardy (C) (B4)
27/6/15 – Tracks (2013) John Curran
1/7/15 – The Heat (2013) Paul Feig
3/7/15 – Amy (2015) Asif Kapadia (C)
11/7/15 – Before I Go To Sleep (2014) Rowan Joffe
12/7/15 – Touch of Evil (1958) Orson Welles (B4)
15/7/15 – The Fog (1980) John Carpenter
16/7/15 – Enemy (2013) Denis Villeneuve
24/6/15 – Inside Out (2015) Pete Docter (C)
25/7/15 – Fatal Attraction (1987) Adrian Lyne
30/7/15 – Love is Strange (2014) Ira Sachs
31/7/15 – A Single Man (2009) Tom Ford
29/8/15 – Side Effects (2013) Steven Soderbergh (B4)
5/9/15 – Trainwreck (2015) Judd Apatow (C)
24/9/15 – The Babadook (2014) Jennifer Kent
26/9/15 – 99 Homes (2014) Ramin Bahrani (C)
30/10/15 – The Intern (2015) Nancy Meyers (C)
2/11/15 – Suffragette (2015) Sarah Gavron (C)
21/11/15 – The Lady in The Van (2015) Nicholas Hytner (C)
14/11/15 – Steve Jobs (2015) Danny Boyle (C)
5/12/15 – Carol (2015) Todd Haynes (C)
15/12/15 – Another Country (1984) Marek Kanievska
18/12/15 – Mean Girls (2004) Mark Waters (B4)
19/12/15 – Sisters (2015) Jason Moore (C)
20/12/15 – A Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) Brian Henson (B4)
21/12/15 – Gremlins (1984) Joe Dante (C) (B4)
22/12/15 – Senna (2010) Asif Kapadia
27/12/15 – Meet Me in St Louis (1944) Vincente Minnelli (C)
28/12/15 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) J.J Abrams (C)

I was really lucky to be able to see so many up on the big screen – the film narrative module at SHU, on which I was delivering seminars, holds all lectures and screenings in a cinema to enable this (The Showroom).

The films that stood out for me this year were Carol, which I loved, 99 Homes and Amy, but also Force Majeure (which many did not enjoy… including the box office guy at HOME who, when selling me a ticket for another film, noticed on my records I’d seen it recently and gave me his pretty brutal appraisal of it). The central moment of the film really stayed with me. The film explores a close call with an avalanche and the repercussions of fight of flight behaviour – the abandonment in the moment as terrifying as the near natural disaster itself.

Interestingly for me Steven kept a list for 2015 too (Click here) although it seems he was really into Magic Mike XXL…. so maybe not besties after all.

The first film I saw this year was The Danish Girl, which I was a bit disappointed with. More importantly on the way in (AMC Manchester) I was given a survey by some idiotic cinema marketing company…. first question on the survey (no kidding)… bear in mind The Danish Girl is a film about the complexities of gender identity…..


So not even worded as ‘How would you describe your gender identity?’ and no 3rd box, really, in 2016?!! Gender is not a binary issue as explored IN THE FILM YOU ARE SURVEYING ME ABOUT.

Also question 18 on this form was ‘rate the following characters…’ with absolutely no indication of what you were supposed to rate them against. Height? Fashion sense? Believability?

The marketeers need to enrol on the Research Methods course I did as part of prep for my research…. then they’d learn not to ask so many stupid questions.




The harder sell

Advertising, commercial feminisms

I hate shopping. People who know me well are aware of the lengths I will go in order to avoid it, especially clothes shopping. When pressed and I have no other options (there is only so many times you can sew something up aparently), I conduct myself with assassin-like efficiency – in and out in seconds with minimal bloodshed.

The cold strip lighting and oppressive body fascism of the high street is not my comfort zone, but having made as many xmas presents as I have time for (and can get away with using my solid B- craft skills) there are certain things that will require action.

My 14 year old sister’s present is yet to click into place and as a result on my way home I made the spur of the moment decision to walk through H&M. Whereupon I stumbled upon this jumper….


I’m sorry what? Surely this should read ‘Feminism – a word now routinely used to sell things to women’. Thanks for reducing the radical fight for the emancipation of everyone from gender binary patriarchal control to a slogan on a jumper, that’s super helpful.

I’ve never read anything as accessible as Nina Power’s One Dimensional Woman (2009) on why this kind of thing is problematic, (specifically the chapter Feminism(TM): Two Sides of the Same Con). Power makes the point that ‘stripped of any internationalist and political quality, feminism becomes about as radical as a diamanté phone cover.’ (Power, 2009: 30).

I’m not adverse to putting the word feminism on things, go ahead, but (unfortunately) we can’t all be Kathleen Hanna. Watch The Punk Singer (2013) if you haven’t already – that woman is a genius.


So all my trip to H&M achieved was me contemplating the complexities of using both the word, and ideology, of feminism to get people to buy into a system that ultimately oppresses them. Selling/buying a T-shirt is the easy part, getting people to understand and identify as feminist AND live their feminism, that’s the harder sell.


…and onwards to plan B for Jenya’s Christmas present.




Take Note(s)

Comedy research, Teaching, Volunteering


In 2009 I managed to successfully apply for a Media Art and Design Scholarship at the University of Westminster to get on the part-time evening-only course for MA Film and TV: Theory, Culture and Industry. Without a scholarship that opportunity to have my horizons expanded and to find what I love would not have been an option for me. I completed a BA by taking out a (now comparatively small) student loan (which, like most of my generation, I am still paying off). I am reminded again of how lucky I was in the week Gideon ‘George’ Osbourne’s autumn statement reasserts the governments relentless attempts to disenfranchise and alienate our young people (see here).

A few weeks ago I participated Arts Emergency (AE) mentor training in the hope that interventions such as theirs can prevent talented young people missing out because of their economic limitations. By partnering young people up with mentors from arts and humanities areas, AE’s amazing initiative The Alternative Old Boys Network tries to redress the balance. The aim is to ensure the creative industries reflect the diversity of our society, and is not only populated by people who can afford to take a gamble on a creative career path.

I’ve been asked a few times since attending this training why, when I am really busy, did I volunteer. The answer is simply because I think its important and if I can use the education that I have been given to help others, then great. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to mentor for AE in future and it was great to meet so many others at training who felt the same. Our government is made up of people who accessed free university education and then used that education to take it away from future generations, it’s an absolute scandal.

I think the legend of Jessica Hynes (who, ever since I first saw Spaced as a teenager I have admired  – even before she proved herself an amazing human being by becoming an Arts Emergency patron and giving the best BAFTA speech I’ve ever heard) sums it up best…

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Without that scholarship to study a subject I felt passionate about there is no question: I wouldn’t be here now doing what I love and studying for my PhD.

This has been on my mind this week because I have been given the opportunity to teach a second year module in TV Comedy and Drama next year at SHU and I cannot wait. As the module has changed from a solely British focus to an international one, I have been allowed the licence to adapt the module content to include a wider range of examples … and also to give me a chance to apply some of my own research interests (Comedy, Feminism, Identity) to teaching. Excited!!

I’m making my way through the existing handbook, adding in new reading, changing up the lectures and planning what I’m going to screen.


Choices choices

I’ve also gone back through the notes I took when I was doing a TV Comedy module for my MA.

That module was such an eye opener, not just in the way it was taught in such an engaging way (by Ian Green, a person who, in my experience, anyone who has completed the MA Film and TV at Uni of Westminster over the last few decades will happily sing the praises of, myself now included), but also in the way it forced me to question everything I thought I knew about comedy. The three little words, incongruity, superiority and relief were brought to my attention and that as they say, was that. Game over everybody, I’ve found my thing now.

The notes I made during those lectures are absolute gold dust now for planning this module. Including this mega list of words…


I can remember this session really well: I see it written up on the whiteboard (in a room off Regent Street that was actually for people training to be translators and so had weird-looking microphones at every desk).

Like reading a childhood diary I can see in those notes exactly where ideas and concepts that I think about daily and now take for granted were introduced to me. As I watched Ian dash about with a whiteboard marker during that term I never thought I’d ever be up there teaching TV Comedy and Drama. Without that scholarship I wouldn’t be.




You cannot be serious?


This week I came across this advertisement on Twitter and I honestly thought it was a hoax. Having heard Jessica Milner-Davies discuss the difference between practical jokes and hoaxes at the 2014 International Humour Summer School, I was utterly convinced that someone would do the ‘big reveal’ at some point as it was such a textbook example.

I thought there was no way that this incredibly offensive caption could be real; someone’s photoshopped it in. This was one just of those traps that people set to enrage feminists online in order to laugh at their ire and then berate them for being so stupid to fall for it…..however this was not a drill.

This advert exists in print in the 2015 catalogue for American department store Bloomingdales. ‘SPIKE YOUR BEST FRIEND’S EGGNOG WHEN THEY’RE NOT LOOKING.’


This story has subsequently been heavily covered in the media (see here for the Guardian’s recap) with may questioning how the hell this ever got signed off. How did an advert for ‘holiday season’ clothing enter such dark territory and how is it possible in 2015 that someone didn’t spot that this caption was a problem?? In my own opinion it looks like it should have some kind of warning message underneath it (‘This festive season remember to watch your drinks everybody’ or ‘ 90% of rapes are committed by people previously known to the victim’ etc.), so stark is the connotation of date rape.

Once I had gotten over my initial shock that this image existed in the world, what I found particularly interesting was that the key thing about this advert that tipped it from a completely average shot of fashion models to highly offensive pro-date rape image was the text.

Surely if you are going to do a fashion shoot inspired by, or even remotely visually similar to, the highly controversial music video for Robin Thicke and Pharrell William’s Blurred Lines (as this is in its choices of colours, black, cream, white, red lipstick… see the image below), then you think long and hard about the caption you add to ensure the image is not read as a continuation of the problematic consent-related discourse of the song itself. The song and video were heavily criticised in the media (see here) and so it is no surprise that this advert has attracted similar levels of critique along the same lines.


Robin Thicke’s video for Blurred Lines (2013)


We are invited by this advert, irrespective of the text, to position ourselves as the man, as we are in the overwhelming majority of images, film, media etc. See, as always, Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975) for her seminal articulation of this idea. His gaze is the one we follow and the woman, head thrown back and smiling is the subject of his (and therefore our) stare. This means that whatever caption was written in this space was more likely to be attributed to the male rather than the female model as he is the active protagonist of this scene. Again the fact that none of the designers or copy editors picked up on this is astonishing.

Today is conveniently International Men’s Day and, sidestepping the obvious discussion about why this day exists in the first place (See comedian Richard Herring’s work on this here), I think this advert provides an example of how patriarchy limits both men and women in its perpetuation of patriarchal gender roles.  This advert invites us to think that this man is about to, or maybe already has, spiked a woman’s drink. It normalises the idea that this is just something that men do, for a laugh. It reinforces the idea that men only think about sex and will stop at nothing to get it irrespective of the consent of their partner as so beautifully articulated in Blurred Lines‘ chorus ‘I know you want it’. Does knowing I want it mean you don’t have to ask me? This is patronising, constraining and offensive to men as much as it is women.

So how does this link to your work on humour and comedy studies then? Good question. Well, I’m particularly interested in this as my research sits within the wider realm of cultural studies. I’ll be looking at how Angela McRobbie’s work on the complexification of anti-feminist backlash often takes the form of irony in advertising, which is also explored in the work of Rosalind Gill (I’ll be looking at this in terms of the U.K comedy industry and advertising for comedy). An interview where McRobbie briefly talks about her work can be found here.

The Bloomingdales advert uses a tone that makes the suggestion of spiking someone’s drink seem a cheeky joke, in a ‘wink wink nudge nudge’ kind of way. The advert knows that what it is saying is not acceptable, invoking feminist scorn, but then diffuses the problematic content of the statement by falling back on the ‘this is a joke’ ironic tone. I’m sure they didn’t anticipate this level of backlash but they knew this statement was tongue in cheek at the very least. The issue here for me is that women’s everyday experiences and the jokey suggestion of this advert are not sufficiently different to be fertile territory for irony or humour.

I am also reminded of an excellent animation about sexual consent that uses humour to get the message across in a clear way. (click link below image).

I love this because I feel it demonstrates how comedy can be used to critique society and throw light on to issues by highlighting their faulty logic. There is something ridiculous about a stick figure pouring tea down someone’s throat, justifying it by saying ‘well you wanted tea last week’.

Most of the press around comedy and consent focuses on rape jokes but I think this provides just one example of how comedy can also be used to highlight inequalities and violence against marginalised groups too. Comedy is another weapon with which to smash patriarchal norms and this is a call to arms.


Space – The Final Frontier

Reclaiming spaces, Suffragettes


This weekend I went along to the launch of the book Suffragette Legacy: How Does the History of Feminism Inspire Current Thinking in Manchester (Mørk-Røstvik and Sutherland 2015) at The People’s History Museum. It was an opportunity to see some of the contributors to this wide ranging consideration of Manchester’s feminist credentials, which included academics, artists and activists, talk about their work.

I was particularly interested to hear about the work of Helen Davies and Jenny White of Warp and Weft who made use of their craft skills to highlight the lack of female statues in Manchester City Centre with their project Stature. These inspiring craftivists crocheted a series of masks of women from Manchester’s history (including the author Elizabeth Gaskell pictured), which they placed over several of the male bronzes and statues in Manchester’s town hall.


Crochet mask of Elizabeth Gaskell from Warp and Weft

The project drew attention to the lack of representation of the achievements of women in the city and has successfully provoked a response (a step in the right direction) from local councillors, who have committed to creating a statue capturing Manchester women’s achievements ready for International Women’s Day 2019.

This approach reminded me of the way on opening night The Women in Comedy Festival team had stuck a variety of images of female comedians to the walls of The Frog and Bucket. The venue was supportive of this move, and the festival in general. However, these walls are usually adorned with portraits of comedians who have earned their stripes on the stage at the venue – not one woman amongst them, even though The Frog and Bucket has been home to regular women-only line-ups, Laughing Cows, for a significant period of time.


The walls of the Frog and Bucket Manchester ready for opening night of Women in Comedy Festival 2015

This is of interest to me as part of my research will touch on the way that the physical performance space for live comedy has shifted from a male specific space (working men’s clubs) to dedicated spaces which are allegedly accessible to all (although are often not accessible in terms of access for disabled performers or audience members as explored in the recent work of Dr Sharon Lockyer). Even though women may now be in the audience and also perform on the stage, the images we see of achievement in comedy remain predominantly male and this normalises the idea of comedy as a male arena.

Additionally this week a public discussion of sexism broke out on an academic mailing list I subscribe to. A female user had put forward the idea that women were being responded to more negatively than their male counterparts when making similar requests (help finding examples, locating references etc.). The word sexism was not used at this initial stage but the argument was made that female users were responded to in a patronising and dismissive tone, whereas males asking almost identical questions would be responded to more considerately. Immediately this suggestion was responded to in a patronising and belittling way (ironically and unwittingly proving the initial point). In and amongst the 50 or so emails that ensued were several comments along the lines of ‘don’t we all have better things to do than argue about this’.

This mailing list is subscribed to by 2,500 people and although the key protagonists were limited to a core group everyone could see their arguments. How many women observing this in their inboxes (as I was) were put off ever posting in this space for fear of similar criticism??

It was incredibly depressing to witness established male academics dismiss this point or fail to take the comment in the way it was meant – as a reminder that we should be cautious when responding by email to anyone and that as women working in a patriarchal environment (which overwhelmingly academia continues to be see here) we are sensitive to this in a way male colleagues may not fully appreciate. In the U.K women are still paid less than men in academia and there are significantly fewer female professors. This virtual space is supposed to be an inclusive one but it does not exist a vacuum we all bring our previous experiences to the way we read and respond to others.

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Tweet from the European Research Council 6/11/15

After a while the argument died down with apologies from those who fell into the trap of responding in the heat of the moment with dismissive or rude statements, and the proposal to get together as a collective and discuss these issues was put forward. So progress possibly??… But I found the comments that fell into the ‘we all have other more important things to do with our time’ particularly infuriating. These issues should be discussed and considered publicly. It is important because it feeds into and feeds off the way women are treated in the real world (see Everyday Sexism for a myriad of examples). The face of success, especially in academia, is still that of the (white) male. If spaces are not inclusive to women or reinforce notions of gender difference then it will take longer to create a more equal image of what it means to be successful.

So overall this week provided an excellent reminder as to what the spaces we inhabit, both physically and virtually, say to us about what we, as women, can achieve.