Screen Cultures: Alternative Comedy/Comedy Alternatives

Date & Time:

14th April, 16:00


Online event; the link will be sent out to those who register.


Alternative Comedy/ Comedy Alternatives
with Ellie Tomsett (BCU), Sophie Quirk (University of Kent) & Rosie White (Northumbria University)

In this session Dr Ellie Tomsett (BCU), Dr Sophie Quirk (University of Kent) and Dr Rosie White (Northumbria University) will reflect in the ways comedy (both in terms of industry structures and comic material) responds to crisis and explores ‘alternatives’.

Ellie Tomsett ( Birmingham City University) What’s the alternative – moving UK live comedy online during the pandemic

This short presentation will reflect on some of the ways the live comedy industry has had to adapt during the UKs pandemic response since March 2020. The main focus will be on the following questions – How does shifting a live form to a mediated environment impact on the roles undertaken by comedians and comperes? What might this period mean for comic careers in the longer term? This argument is drawn from a short reflective piece written for Comedy Studies which considers the impact of Covid-19 on the UK’s live comedy scene – this will published alongside the reflections of comedy scholars around the world to put the impact of the pandemic on live comedy into a global perspective.

Sophie Quirk (University of Kent) Alternative Comedy as Response to Crisis

The Alternative Comedy form that emerged in c.1979 is remembered partly as a response to crisis. On the one hand, alternative comedians identified a crisis of form, seeking innovative ways of performing comedy that could replace the formulaic, ‘packaged’ gags that dominated on the trad comedy circuit. On the other, they sought to vanquish the frequently sexist, racist and homophobic tone prevalent in many mainstream comedy shows. In the 21st Century, a new commercial mainstream has emerged, and new groups of alternative comedians are identifying crises within it. Once again, there is a call for experimental approaches to combat the perceived homogeneity of mainstream stand-up; alongside this, a need for action to redress the systemic inequalities prevalent in the comedy industry. This paper explores some of the new alternatives that are emerging in response to these crises and their strategies for combatting the new mainstream. It is argued crisis is a productive force in the creation of new comedy alternatives.

Rosie White (Northumbria University) Making Fun of Feminism: The Worm That Turned

This paper is drawn from a longer piece of work addressing the representation of second wave feminism during the 1970s and early 1980s in mainstream comedy shows starring male comedians. ‘The Worm That Turned’ was a sketch narrative which featured in the 1980 season of The Two Ronnies (BBC 1971-1986). Set in a dystopian future where gender roles are reversed, the narrative makes fun of feminism but also represents key aspects of the second wave, bizarrely echoing debates within the women’s liberation movement. Such comedy offers an account of mainstream resistance and response to 1970s British second wave activism. While these shows make fun of feminist politics, they inadvertently showcased feminist debate. Attendees may want to watch a short clip of one of these sketches in advance of the paper –

About the speakers:

Dr Sophie Quirk is Senior Lecturer in Drama and Theatre at the University of Kent. She is the author of Why Stand-up Matters: How Comedians Manipulate and Influence (2015) and The Politics of British Stand-up Comedy: The New Alternative (2018). This paper is drawn from a chapter co-authored with Ed Wilson.

Dr Rosie White is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Northumbria University; her latest book is Television Comedy and Femininity: Queering Gender (I B Tauris 2018).

Dr Ellie Tomsett is a Lecturer in Media at Birmingham City University. In 2017 she co-founded Mixed Bill an interdisciplinary comedy and gender research network and has written on feminist and post-feminist stand-up comedy, protest humour and self-deprecation.