Mixed Bill is GO!

Comedy research, feminisms, MixedBill, Reclaiming spaces, Symposium

 

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Earlier this year, around a kitchen table, two other amazing women and myself established Mixed Bill, a comedy and gender research network. Sara Ahmed in Living a Feminist Life (2017) writes evocatively on the significance of tables for feminist work (gaining a place at the table, turning tables, family disagreements at the dinner table) and her work continues to inspire me to create my own opportunities to progress the feminist agenda of my work. In this instance with a (to use Ahmed’s term) ‘fragile’ feminist network external to any one institution.

I had been thinking about producing an engagement event in relation to my research for a while and couldn’t think of two better partners in crime than Lisa Moore of the University of Salford and Kate Fox, stand-up poet and PhD candidate at Leeds University. Together we are a pretty formidable team and our research areas and interests fit very nicely alongside each other.  The event we have been planning is shaping up to be the mother of all symposia. It has been quite tricky to plan due to the quality and range of abstracts we received – we had to make some ruthless decisions as every single abstract outlined a paper that we would have loved to have seen.

Last week we sat down and thrashed it out and have programmed an event that feels in many ways quite revolutionary. We aren’t running concurrent papers so everyone’s voice can be heard by all attendees. There is nothing more frustrating than having to pick between attending one presentation when another, just as relevant, is taking place down the hall – although maybe being the presenter of a paper to a split audience is a contender for the crown? The opportunity for those researching gender and comedy, a growing field, to engage and be challenged by so many different approaches that speak directly to their area is exciting too – as often gender and comedy is ring-fenced in a panel of its own within larger discussions of comedy (those researching gender and comedy often find themselves thrown together irrespective of the way their paper may be a better fit with, say, panels on political satire or musical comedy). As the fundamental premise of our event is women and comedy and the opportunities women have to represent themselves through comedy, the programmed panels give a chance to address this from multiple perspectives, with multiple examples from different countries, eras and approaches.

Our event will also include several non-traditional presentations/ performances and interventions into the area to give attendees the chance to engage with (and learn from) the ideas and opinions of those who work within comedy and performance. We are pushing very hard to ensure our event is inclusive to all and are discussing various approaches we can take to try to impact on the diversity of our field. We all feel strongly that we have to go beyond just saying we want to be diverse in our programming and attendance make-up to find active and practical ways of addressing this.

It is very exciting to be setting off on this new adventure with Mixed Bill, as producing events and inspiring engagement as part of a team is where I think I work best. Between us we have lots of ideas about where to explore next and I also can’t wait to meet all the amazing people who will be joining us at the start of this exciting new phase for gender and comedy research in October.

ONWARDS.

More on Mixed Bill and our first event here.

 

 

Mock The Weak Conference

Comedy research, feminisms, self-deprecation

Back in September I had the chance to present a small (but significant) aspect of my research at the Mock The Weak conference at the University of Teesside. The conference organisers Sarah Illot and Helen Davies had brought together a variety of researchers, academics and industry professionals to discuss comedy and the politics of representation. It was a great opportunity for me to explore some of the themes I am engaging with in one of my chapters – the use of self-deprecation and, conversely, body positivity in stand-up comedy by female performers.

The paper I presented  was called Positives and Negatives: Reclaiming the Female Body and Self-Deprecation in Stand-up Comedy (snappy title eh). Here’s a shot of my PowerPoint up and ready to go (with a cameo from Rosie White who chaired the panel).

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The audience offered some great points for further consideration and asked some interesting questions. Many hadn’t seen the work of the comedian I used as my key example (Luisa Omielan) and so the decision to play a short clip of her work was definitely the right way to go.

One of the really useful things about the conference was that it kicked off with a workshop for early career researchers in publishing. Having just (I mean literally just  – as in the day before going to the conference) finished making amendments to an article following on from peer review, it felt timely to reflect on the challenges this throws up for PhD researchers. It was exactly the kind of workshop you wish you had attended before you started your PhD. In the session we had the opportunity to hear about the experiences of Dr Rosie White, who was awarded her Doctorate in the late 90s, and early career researcher Megan Sormus, and talk through the process from submission to publication. All the PhD candidates in the room discussed the difficulty of getting our heads round the REF (Research Excellence Framework) and what, if anything, this meant in terms of the work we would hopefully go on to publish whilst studying. The ever-present pressure to spin all the different plates (getting the research written, gaining teaching experience, getting articles published) simultaneously was also explored. I definitely left the room feeling more aware of what I should be focusing on and some of the key things I need to consider the next time I submit work for publication (it seems very much like I lucked out – approaching a journal cold and their responding swiftly and positively). There’s a great summary of advice form the workshop here.

The conference included a broad range of topics and approaches (Rob Hawkes on Stewart Lee and trust, Kate Fox on Northernness and class in comedy, were just a few of the highlights) as well as illuminating keynotes from Anshuman Mondal and Sharon Lockyer.

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The two days concluded with a panel discussion  which gave a really eye-opening account of the complex issues involved in comedy and representation, and featured contributions from a range of perspectives, including comedian Kate Smurthwaite, Lynne Parker from Funny Women (both of whom  I have interviewed as part of my research), trans activist and comedian Clare Parker, comedy writer and director Matthew Greenhough and Akua Gymafi founder of the British Black List, as well as the keynote speakers and conference organisers.

The conference blog is still active and includes interviews with several of the presenters for the event. Check it out here.