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  • Gender and Humor: Interdisciplinary and International Perspectives ed. by Delia Chiaro and Raffaella Baccolini
  • Jared N. Champion (bio)
Gender and Humor: Interdisciplinary and International Perspectives. Edited by Delia Chiaro and Raffaella Baccolini. 2014. Reprint, New York: Routledge, 2018. 360 pp.

The anthology Gender and Humor: Interdisciplinary and International Perspectives, edited by Delia Chiaro and Raffaella Baccolini, sets out on an ambitious mission to draw together scholars from diverse fields to explore humor in different national and cultural contexts. In service of this goal, the anthology offers twenty chapters divided into three sections and opens with an editors' introduction titled "Humor: A Many Gendered Thing." While grouping so many chapters into sections typically offers a window into the broader trajectory of a collection's most notable contribution to the field, only one of these sections (part 2) has any clearly defined thematic or conceptual rationale drawing the chapters together. The first section promises "six comprehensive and all-encompassing overviews of humor and gender from different perspectives ranging from linguistics to anthropology and stretching across both Eastern and Western cultures" (2-3), but that promise seems in conflict with the editors' note just a few paragraphs earlier that "humor is an extremely complex, slippery, and multifaceted concept" (1), even if it does align neatly with the book's very broad title. The second section focuses more narrowly and clearly on psychological studies of humor and gender. The final section has no clear organizing principle and instead serves as a catchall for almost half of the anthology's essays with topics ranging from domestic material, culture studies, and feminism to essays about "the fluidity of both gender and ethnic identities and how these tend to clash and merge in the creation of humor" (3), again echoing the title but offering little critical or organizational traction. The organizational confusion continues throughout the [End Page 230] introduction as the editors discuss the different chapters out of order in a frustrated attempt to build conceptual links among the many essays.

The first section opens with a chapter by Janet Bing and Joanne Scheibman titled "Blended Spaces as Subversive Feminist Humor" that draws on conceptual blending theory—a "theoretical framework that models how language users integrate information from different domains of knowledge to form novel concepts" (13)—to explore the subversive potential for blended spaces. The second essay, "Traditional Comic Conflicts in Farce and Roles for Women," by Jessica Milner Davis provides a fascinating history of women actors in farces. Two of the most impressive close readings anchor the section's middle: Jennifer A. Wagner-Lawlor's "The School for Scandal: Humor and the Scandalized Narrative in Women's Speculative Fiction" applies Susan Sontag's theoretical approach to the comic and the performative to three speculative novels, most notably Gilman's Herland, and Frances Gray's "'A Gay Arcadia of Happy Girls': Women, the Body, and the Welfare State in British Film Comedy" rethinks the cultural significance of two British comedy series, Carry On and St. Trinian's. Don Kulick's "Humorless Lesbians" and Francois Bouchetoux's "Gender Trouble in Sketches from Japan" bring the section to a close with broad, not unproblematic claims about German and Japanese humor, respectively.

Section 2, the shortest and most focused of the three, opens with Rod A. Martin's "Humor and Gender: An Overview of Psychological Research." Jennifer Coates's "Gender and Humor in Everyday Conversation" provides a strong example of psychological approaches to humor and gender, as does the collaborative piece by Janet Holmes and Stephanie Schnurr titled "Funny, Feminine, and Flirtatious: Humor and Gendered Discourse Norms at Work." The final chapter in the section, "Power and Connection: Humor in a Cantonese Family" by John S. Y. Hui is the strongest example of quantitative research in the anthology.

Sheri R. Klein's "Humor and Contemporary Product Design: Inter-national Perspectives" opens the third section with a promising topic that never quite comes to fruition; the chapter offers only passing nods to actual products with one exception. Next, Sharon Lockyer delivers a clear and thoughtful piece in a chapter titled "Being Bovvered and Taking Liberties: Female Performance and Female Identities in The Catherine Tate Show." Gail Finney further...