Stand-up in new places: examining the practice of humorous verbal performance in emerging contexts in a post-COVID-19 world
Based on ethnographic fieldwork, interviews, and media research, this project examines the contexts and contents of new and emerging standup comedy scenes in four citiesSydney, Nova Scotia; Logan, Utah; Prague, Czech Republic; and Moscow, Russian Federationby examining key elements of negotiation between the audience and the performer in the collaborative creation of the standup
comedy performance event:
1. What motivates the emerging comedian’s decision to attempt standup and who is (and is not) used as informing models for performance? Is it considered as a lateral move from other forms of public talk, whether theatrical or rhetorical, or do the low barriers for entry encourage engagement? Which standup comedians serve as their models for joke structure, topical areas, language use, or simply for achievable
2. Within the background of both local informal social speech events and theatrical monologue traditions, how do new standup
comedians and audiences negotiate expectations of public verbal performance? If, for example, solo verbal comic performance in the local context has traditionally been scripted and performed as a character, how do audiences initially react to the surfeit of spontaneity and the seeming artlessness of standup comedy? Furthermore, when standup comedy is introduced through its mediated iterations, where content has typically been generalised to appeal both to real present and to anticipated future audiences, how are local and immediate topics both attempted and received?
3. What topics emerge as points of concern sufficient to warrant the vernacular understanding of standup comedy as counterhegemonic’
or speaking truth to power’ without transgressing to the point of breaking the comic frame or, within more oppressive regimes, inviting the scrutiny and censure of authorities? Within contexts where humour is understood as a form of resistance, does the movement of small group
joking culture from the private to the semipublic sphere comprise a risk behaviour? Conversely, if talk is not sufficiently topically transgressive, is it still considered valuable, at least in terms of warranting the time taken to listen?
4. What are the local economies of standup, for comedians, show organizers, venues, and audiences: what monetary value is placed on comedy alongside local discourses on its social or artistic value? How do organizers convince venues first to host and subsequently to continue with standup comedy? If money moves from audiences to performers, how is it distributed? How do these small consensus economies interact with similar ones regionally or nationally (in the case of comics visiting another municipality) or with larger, more professional ones when more established acts visit?
5. Does a community of practice emerge that is considered by either locals or outsiders a distinct style? How do new comedians to these communitieseither local standup novices or more established participants from different contextsadapt to performance expectations?
6. How much do the patterns of scene development resemble those of earlier scenes elsewhere and what role do shifting comedy mediations play?
7. Given the above, and given the re-prioritization of ludic, social, political, and economic life during the global pandemic of 2020/2021, how do scenes rebuild and what are the locally valued criteria for that rebuilding?
Although the four sites are individual case studies, the overall project comprises a pilot initiative for developing a research model for examining emerging scenes as a nego