Victor Turner

Furthemore we are able too use Victor Turners notion of ‘liminal’ or ‘liminoid’  as appliable to the stand-up comedian. The ritual performance is an expression of exploring structures and values to ultimately change them, “public liminality can never be traquily regarded as…letting off steam, rather it is communitas weighing structure…proposing in however form, new paradigms and models which invert or subvert the old” (Turner, 1977; 33). Thus laughter is not just a cathartic escape, or in the Freudian sense, a holiday from your subconscious monitoring system, it is also a way to induce what Turner (1977) labels ‘plural reflexivity’. It is ‘plural relfexivity’ in the stand-up performance that brings comedy closer to anthropology. Both have a similar way of reflexively revealing the structure of institutions which dictate the forces of behaviour with a means to re-articulate how or why humans abide by these. The similarities are highlighted with what is presented to the audience; “an audience may be engaged in some reflexive stocktaking as the comedian exposes the alienations, injustices, incongruities and immoralities that contaminate human life” (Koziski, 1984; 70), something that public anthropologists strive to achieve. I wish to stress at this point that I am aware that anthropologists are dealing with subject matter on a more serious level. But if we take my argument that the substance of the materials alone have similarities in harnessing relfexivity among the audience, then we have some overlaps with the discipline of anthropology and its sub-discipline visual anthropology.


Laughter is a highly cathartic emotional state. According to Bergson the essence of man is spontaneity and freedom, laughter asserts this which ties in nicely with Freud.

Freud asserts that at all times we are monitoring our subconscious so that our conscious perceptions come through a filtering control, the joke and laughter serves a some kind of holiday from this monitoring system. We momentarily lose control and the subconscious surfaces.

A bit of philosophy can always be of use…

Audience as a Community

I have been contemplating the idea of the audience as some form of community. Following the research I have done so far there has been some evidence suggest there is something in this. This comes in the form of how the comedian skillfully pulls the audience into their views and ideas that underpin societal norms, it creates a kind of common mindset which is consolidated in laughter.

Can this be taken forward?  People prefer standups for differing reasons and go to see them because they enjoy what that particular comedian brings to the audience. Lee Evans brings whimsical silliness to the stage or Frankie Boyle will offer a much darker form of comedy, either way the audience are brought together through a common experience and also potentially a set of dispositions. Obviously here I am only referring to professional standup in which the comedian has already got an established  style or reputation.

Victor Turner writes that the experience of public joking, shared laughter, and celebration of agreement on what deserves ridicule and affirmation fosters community and furthers and sense of mutual support for common belief and behaviour, it becomes a ‘rite’.

Mary Douglas

In Mary Douglas’s essay in ‘implicit meanings’ she covers a lot about the nature of the joke and the joker. In fact her work goes quite some way in summing up a lot of what I have been discussing previously.

Douglas outlines that the comedian has the power to attack the dominant structures through harnessing consensus with the audience, “the joke consists in challenging a dominant structure and belittling it; the joker who provokes the laughter is chosen to challenge the relevance of the dominant structure” (p.159) and if the challenge is suitably relevant then the comedians views are rewarded and confirmed through laughter. She argues that the joke form always has the power to be subversive and that the joker becomes a ‘minor mystic’.

This ‘minor mystic’ figure has similarities to the propositions of the standup as the every-mans philosopher or modern prophet. Douglas agrees that the comedian establishes a marginal status; “though only a mundane and borderline type, he is one of those people who pass beyond the bounds of reason and society and give glimpses of a truth which escapes through the mesh of structural concepts” (p.159).

In my film, Oliver Double acknowledges the sophistication of Douglas’s argument but also challenges one aspect. She proposes that the comedian is not exposed to danger, he disagree’s because of what happened to comedians such as Lenny Bruce (referred to previously).


Stand-up / Audience Dynamic

It seems wrong to have got this far into a blog about stand-up comedy without discussing the relationship between the performer and the audience. What it is that makes the people laugh about the stand-up and the tools they have to make it such a powerful form. There is something in the nature of the direct address that gives stand-up the status it has. Here I will be primarily be talking about the ‘new wave’ comedians that I have been discussing throughout the blog, the comedians that make you think, social commentators, modern prophets…

It is amazing how stand-ups can crate an intimate sense of community within the space of their given set. Here I will explore how they can develop this bond. Primarily, the stand-up immediately establishes themselves as marginal, whether it be physically, socially, psychologically they go about self-depracation in individualistic way’s. From here the audience forgive or even bless them, they become almost superior in recognition of the stand-ups weaknesses. Once this position has been accepted through laughter or applause the comedian can begin working on building the community. Often done through picking on audience members and saying what people are thinking or talking about things we all do and bridging the gap between what is done and thought. This way, through laughter, the audience become coerced into a homogenous community with shared values.

Obviously, it is not as straightforward and oversleeping as put there. But it gives an idea into the tools the comedian has so that they can bring up subversive topics and bring the audience with them, perhaps shed fresh perspectives upon things that can affect people in day-to-day life all to create what Victor Turner labels “plural reflexivity” (1977). I really think there should be greater social theory put into the stand-up comedians now that their routines have persona’s have become to varied.

However, as Oliver Double pointed out in my interview with him, the stand-up can’t just become a prostitute to the audience…”i think that the very best comedians have that sharp ability to interpret an audience in addition to ‘I’m gonna do what I wanna do anyway'”. In this light the comedian challenges the audience under the guise or the marginal, clever stuff…..



Oliver Double Extract

Here is an interview extract with Oliver Double which could not  fit into the film. He hits some really interesting topics about the prophet comedian. He talks about the power of direct address that can be found in the intimate relationship between the stand-up and the audience. He draws upon Berlusconi, Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia and banned cabaret to illustrate that jokes do have an affect, they can be subversive and state recognises that.


Implicit Meanings

The experience of a joke form in the social structure calls imperatively for a joke to express it. The joker then stands, we are told, as a kind of ritual purifier. He makes those disruptive comments which the group feels it would like to make about itself. Thereby, the joker lightens the oppressiveness of social reality.

                 -Implicit Meanings: Essays in Anthropology by Mary Douglas
Review by: David Silverman, Edward A. Tiryakian, Nanette J.                Davis and Barry Schwartz The Sociological Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Spring, 1978), pp. 355-368

Here we come back to the point of the comedian being the people’s philosopher. Breaking down the barriers between thought and experience, the joke becomes a temporary suspension of the given social structure produced by a joker, or in the case, the stand-up comedian. Could this be why the UK saw such a boom of televised comic performances about six years ago? ‘Mock the Week’, ‘Have I Got News For You’, ‘Live at the Apollo’ as well as comedians such as Russell Howard and John Bishop getting their own shows on the BBC all appeared around the same time as the economic crisis. 

I am not trying to turn this blog into something of a conspiracy theory. Just trying to illustrate that stand-up’s are more than just entertainment, they are thought provoking and also bring light to darker topics. 

Comedians and the State

I have just heard the story of Lenny Bruce who got arrested at the Jazz World for his stand-up performance in 1961 for the obscenity of his performance. This arrest as founded upon his use of the word “cocksucker” in an inappropirate context. This performance was also known to have a part of it that was about Nazi’s:

He is a Jewish comedian and in this performance he takes on the perspective of a Nazi and say’s that if Germany had won the war, they would have strung President Truman up by the balls for what he did in Hiroshima, because the only difference between Hiroshima and the holocaust was that the the atom bomb the people were burned thousands of miles away from those burning…

Understandably it is difficult to come by the material, however, it is important to note that this part of the performance is not about obscenity but more about challenging the political status quo and the use of nuclear weapons. Symbolically he was arrested by the FBI.



Frankie Boyle

Here is popular comedian Frankie Boyle, known for his dark and pessimistic point of view talking politics in an interview about Scottish Independence. He discusses around 6 minutes in about how certain comedians are allowed on television during periods of austerity for their happy attributes that help people escape current issues. The interview goes on to talk about how panel shows are limited in what they can talk about with regard to world issues at the time…drawing upon Iraq on panel shows acceptability changing over time. BBC comes out pretty badly in this…interesting to see how comedy is monitored, controlled and manipulated with reflection to issues at society level.