Stand up comedy and the multi-dimensional character of performance
This thesis examines the multi-dimensional nature of talk surrounding the social phenomenon of performing. Informed by the conversational interview discussions of those closely involved with stand up comedy, the five primary discursive dimensions are considered. These dimensions have been labelled 'Art and Occupation', 'Self and Persona', 'Spontaneous and Rehearsed', 'Talent and Effort', and 'Truth and Believability'. Collectively these dimensions contribute to our understanding of performing, although this understanding is not exclusive to the performers and performance of the stand up comedy environment. The concerns of the particular participants are not necessarily regarded as fundamentally different from our own as we exist as performers in the performance of our own lives. The five dimensions are not only similar in that they each contribute to our understanding of performers and performance, they are also similarly dyadic in nature, being constructed around the juxtaposition of two ostensibly oppositional concepts, as suggested by the labels given to them. Though participants do not necessarily treat all of them as straightforwardly oppositional, each dimension displays a certain tension between the poles. The theoretical conception informing this work has developed in two ways: ethnographically, as the result of working with interview data, and through a close analysis of other pre-existing theoretical conceptions around the issues of knowledge, ideology and discourse. Specifically, five theoretical approaches are considered: Mannheimian sociology of knowledge; Foucauldian discourses; social representation theory; interpretative repertoires; and ideological dilemmas. It was found that these approaches divide (roughly) into group consensus theories and dilemmatic theories. The latter group was found to be more pertinent for the analysis of the material here. Nevertheless, neither dilemmatic theory alone, nor a simple combination of the two, did justice to the specifics under consideration. Thus, this thesis remains eclectic in terms of its theoretical underpinnings. The tensions and oppositions that are evident in the talk around stand up comedy are clear indications of equivalent tensions inherent in performance, and the practice of performers, more generally. Indeed, it would appear that performing of all kinds is intrinsically paradoxical. Thus the results presented here have resonance and relevance beyond the world of stand up comedy alone.