In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Comedy and the Politics of Representation: Mocking the Weak ed. by Helen Davies and Sarah Ilott
  • Nikhil Jayadevan (bio)
Comedy and the Politics of Representation: Mocking the Weak. Edited By Helen Davies and Cynthia J. Miller. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018. 262 pp.

Comedy and the Politics of Representation: Mocking the Weak offers a wide-ranging set of analyses of the ethical implications and possible interventions of and ambiguous identifications produced through comedic representation. The volume analyzes mostly British and European (and some American) media contexts: radio, stand-up, sitcoms, romcoms, and White House correspondents' dinners. Scholars of American political humor (or the politics animating all American humor) will find a useful and diverse set of methodologies with which to uncover comedians' tendencies to either reward or subvert their imagined audiences' expectations of sociocultural others, encouraging collusion through laughter and either an identification or disidentification with the butts through such collusion.

Anshuman A. Mondal focuses on the performativity of satiric mockery and its new risks. Speech acts of mockery, Mondal argues, affect (or attempt to) the power relation that positions the satirized as abnormal, inferior, and offensive (28). Having little control over their material's global circulation, satirists now require either a "forensic sensitivity" or a willingness to risk failure and the audience's identification with the mocked (38-39). Paradoxically, liberal free-speech ideology—fueled by ahistorical fantasies of moral, powerless satirists disciplining the powerful—deemphasizes, in advance, any significant or deleterious effects that satire can have while offering to all satirists "indiscriminate licenses" to offend (39). Referring to contemporary "post-truth" politics and distrust of the media, experts, and politicians, Rob Hawkes echoes that last point, commenting that many reactionary comics offer audiences "an illusory sense of certainty" about consequently excluded [End Page 212] others. His central example, Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle, undermines stand-up's access to authenticity by demanding the audience's trust while mocking it for believing his lengthy but ultimately false anecdotes. Because Lee stretches the "bonds of trust" to make audience members uncomfortable with their trust and laughter, they (re)encounter the uncertain otherness within all comedy (44). Written by a "female, stand-up poet" and "poor" autistic person, Kate Fox, "Standing Up to False Binaries in Humour and Autism: A Dialogue," offers a humorous, reflexive, dialogic criticism of conservative, gender-essentialist clinical (and popular) stereotypes about the autistic being unfunny and unamused, disinterested in the arts, high achieving, and economically successful (174, 184). Fox also proposes "humitas" ("humor" and "gravitas") as a term to describe humor's effects beyond rhetorical persuasion in the commonplace blending of humorously discursive registers with serious ones—a blending whose affective appeal indicates these boundaries' arbitrariness.

Examining British romantic comedies, Sarah Ilott finds the genre responding to fears of failing migrant assimilation with representations of heterosexual, interethnic couples that "function to imagine or coax into existence the sense of a unified body politic" (66). Rather than blaming migrants, jokes in Mixed Blessings (1978-80) and Mischief Nights (2006) encourage identification with the central couples and laughter over the "mutual unease" the families experience in coming together. Even so, the hopes of assimilation collide with constructed others apparently inassimilable to "Western" multicultural values, like first-generation immigrants and a terrorist-recruiter imam (74).

Janine Bradbury's and Alan O'Leary's chapters both comment on the visibility and invisibility of race—in the "reanimation" of the passing-for-white genre in American sketch comedy shows and in the "denaturalization" of invisible, "banal whiteness" in popular Italian Christmas films (cinepanettoni), respectively. Chappelle's Show and Key & Peele's passing-for-white sketches "render [whiteness] uncanny to the white viewer." The latter's "Das Negros" sketch mocks the Nazi "negro hunters" and "our need to locate [race], detect it, and ascribe meaning to it" in a "postrace" America where individuals "constantly renegotiate their identities," while black bodies are still subject to violent surveillance (84, 89, 92). O'Leary finds in the "cultural embarrassment" of cinepanettone comedies a revelation of the instability of the "white Italian heterosexual male" category and also finds hope in [End Page 213] cinepanettone's rejection of popular media's "banal reproduction of whiteness...