An approach to traditions of British stand-up comedy
This thesis is the first to examine stand-up comedy within an academic framework. It begins with a review of various theories of humour and examines the three major strands of thought; the idea that humour is a way of expressing hostility; the idea that humorous laughter is caused by incongruity; and the idea that humour is connected with a release of tension. Parts of each of these are taken on, in order to establish a method of examining stand-up comedy. A particular emphasis is placed on the incongruity theory, and it is argued that this implies an intrinsic link between the joke and its cultural context; humorous incongruity involves deviation from the normal and the expected, and ideas of what constitutes abnormality or unexpectedness will differ from culture to culture. The three major traditions of British stand-up comedy, (the Music Hall/Variety tradition, the Working Men's Club tradition, and the Alternative Comedy tradition) are examined. In each case, the stylistic tendencies of the tradition, and the attitudes towards class, gender, and race implied by the comedy are examined. The major characteristics of each of these traditions are linked with particular aspects of their organization, and it is argued that in each case, professionalization has tended to discourage stylistic innovation and political radicalism. The work of three comedians, Frankie Howerd, Les Dawson, and Ben Elton, is then examined in detail, with a view to establishing how important the influence of tradition is on the work of individual comedians. The thesis concludes by restressing the importance of the cultural context of humour, and by discussing the reasons why professionalization should discourage radicalism and innovation. It is argued that the full artistic and political potential of the form of stand-up comedy has rarely been attained.