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Uproarious

How Feminists and Other Subversive Comics Speak Truth

2019
Authors:

Cynthia Willett and Julie Willett

Uproarious

A radical new approach to humor, where traditional targets become its agents

Placing theorists in conversation with comedians, Uproarious offers a full-frontal approach to the very foundation of comedy and its profound political impact. Here Cynthia Willett and Julie Willett address the four major theories of humor—superiority, relief, incongruity, and social play—through the lens of feminist and game-changing comics Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho, Hannah Gadsby, Hari Kondabolu, and Tig Notaro.

Humor is often dismissed as cruel ridicule or harmless fun. But what if laughter is a vital force to channel rage against patriarchy, Islamophobia, or mass incarceration? To create moments of empathy and dialogue between Black Lives Matter and the police? These and other such questions are at the heart of this powerful reassessment of humor. Placing theorists in conversation with comedians, Uproarious offers a full-frontal approach to the very foundation of comedy and its profound political impact.

Here Cynthia Willett and Julie Willett address the four major theories of humor—superiority, relief, incongruity, and social play—through the lens of feminist and game-changing comics Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho, Hannah Gadsby, Hari Kondabolu, and Tig Notaro. They take a radical and holistic approach to the understanding of humor, particularly of humor deployed by those from groups long relegated to the margins, and propose a powerful new understanding of humor as a force that can engender politically progressive social movements. Drawing on a range of cross-disciplinary sources, from philosophies and histories of humor to the psychology and physiology of laughter to animal studies, Uproarious offers a richer understanding of the political and cathartic potential of humor.

A major new contribution to a wider dialogue on comedy, Uproarious grounds for us explorations of outsider humor and our golden age of feminist comics—showing that when women, prisoners, or even animals laugh back, comedy along with belly laughs forges new identities and alters the political climate.
Uproarious

Cynthia Willett is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Philosophy at Emory University. Her books include, most recently, Interspecies Ethics and Irony in the Age of Empire: Comic Perspectives on Freedom and Democracy.

Julie Willett is associate professor of history at Texas Tech University. She is author of Permanent Waves: The Making of the American Beauty Shop.

Uproarious

Contents

Introduction: Revamping the Four Major Theories on Humor

1. Fumerism: Feminist Anger and Joy from Roseanne Barr to Margaret Cho and Wanda Sykes

2. Fighting Back against Islamophobia and Post-9/11 Nationalism: Dean Obeidallah, Maysoon Zayid, Hari Kondabolu, and Others

3. Can the Animal Subaltern Laugh? Mocking Alpha Males with Georgia and Koko

4. A Catharsis of Shame: The Belly Laugh and SlutWalk

5. Breaking Down Bars of Separation: Radical Empathy and a Prison Roast with Jeff Ross

Conclusion. Humor Can’t Wait: In the Tragic with Tig Notaro and Hannah Gadsby

Acknowledgments

Notes

Index