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All Joking Aside

American Humor and Its Discontents

Rebecca Krefting

Publication Year: 2014

In this examination of stand-up comedy, Rebecca Krefting establishes a new genre of comedic production, “charged humor,” and charts its pathways from production to consumption. Some jokes are tears in the fabric of our beliefs—they challenge myths about how fair and democratic our society is and the behaviors and practices we enact to maintain those fictions. Jokes loaded with vitriol and delivered with verve, charged humor compels audiences to action, artfully summoning political critique. Since the institutionalization of stand-up comedy as a distinct cultural form, stand-up comics have leveraged charged humor to reveal social, political, and economic stratifications. All Joking Aside offers a history of charged comedy from the mid-twentieth century to the early aughts, highlighting dozens of talented comics from Dick Gregory and Robin Tyler to Micia Mosely and Hari Kondabolu. The popularity of charged humor has waxed and waned over the past sixty years. Indeed, the history of charged humor is a tale of intrigue and subversion featuring dive bars, public remonstrations, fickle audiences, movie stars turned politicians, commercial airlines, emergent technologies, neoliberal mind-sets, and a cavalcade of comic misfits with an ax to grind. Along the way, Krefting explores the fault lines in the modern economy of humor, why men are perceived to be funnier than women, the perplexing popularity of modern-day minstrelsy, and the way identities are packaged and sold in the marketplace. Appealing to anyone interested in the politics of humor and generating implications for the study of any form of popular entertainment, this history reflects on why we make the choices we do and the collective power of our consumptive practices. Readers will be delighted by the broad array of comic talent spotlighted in this book, and for those interested in comedy with substance, it will offer an alternative punchline.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

...Thanks to the comics and folks in the industry who graciously volunteered hours of their time, enduring interviews, e‑mails, and phone calls for years. Special thanks to the comics serving as case studies: Micia Mosely, Robin Tyler, and Hari Kondabolu. You...

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Introduction. The Laughscape of American Humor

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pp. 1-15

...It’s just a joke. Come on, I was only joking! Geez, why can’t you take a joke? Likely, you have heard this dozens of times. It is a statement most commonly dispensed when the unlucky butt of the joke offers protestations. Some of the most hateful vitriol passes...

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1 Making Connections: Building Cultural Citizenship through Charged Humor

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pp. 16-35

...at different periods in time by different people. A property-owning White man in the early nineteenth century had a different experience of citizenship than did an enslaved African American woman. Today, a US naturalized Trinidadian transgender man will have...

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2 Twentieth-Century Stand-Up: A History of Charged Humor

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pp. 36-66

...pictorials—while also performing frequently and becoming increasingly involved in the African American civil rights movement. The jokes opening the chapter are not an aberration from his traditional material; they are reflective of the style...

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3 Laughing into the New Millennium

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pp. 67-105

...opinions toward atheists and found that they are among the least trusted of people and thought to have little moral grounding. Yet another common misperception is that atheists...

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4 When Women Perform Charged Humor: The (Gendered) Politics of Consumption

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pp. 106-136

...Male humor prefers the laugh to be at someone’s expense, and understands that life is quite possibly a joke to begin with—and often a joke in extremely poor taste. . . . Whereas women, bless their tender hearts, would prefer that life be fair, and even sweet, rather...

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5 Robin Tyler: Still “Working the Crowd”

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pp. 137-168

...limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman? What kinds of rights will we have if we are traveling and some calamity befalls us in one of those states or abroad? We still...

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6 Micia Mosely: Humor out of the Mouths of Babes

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pp. 169-195

...protagonists, and heroines in television, film, theater, radio, or elsewhere? Creating representations that make Black lesbian subjectivities visible is a key goal in Micia Mosely’s body...

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7 Hari Kondabolu: Performing in the Age of Modern-Day Minstrelsy

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pp. 196-230

...everyone could recognize: inaccurate generalizations about himself and other groups. Audiences loved it. Feeling disingenuous and recognizing the potential damage wreaked by perpetuating these untruths...

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Conclusion. How to Avoid the Last Laugh

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pp. 231-244

...nothing of Daniel Tosh. To maintain the anonymity of the women, the events of the evening were recounted in first person on a friend’s blog on Tumblr, a social media site hosting millions...


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pp. 245-268

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Charged Comic Compendium

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pp. 269-336

...American actor and comedian, Ahmed moved to Hollywood at nineteen years old to pursue his career. He was the winner of the first annual Richard Pryor Award for ethnic comedy at the Edinburgh Festival, Scotland, in 2004...


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pp. 337-346

E-ISBN-13: 9781421414317
E-ISBN-10: 1421414317
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421414300
Print-ISBN-10: 1421414309

Page Count: 360
Publication Year: 2014