Event | ‘Humour & Transgression’ – Expert Talks and Discussions on the Politics and Aesthetics of Transgressive Humour
Date: 22 February 2023
Location: Utrecht University (MCW Lab, Munstraat 2a)
Organizers: Dick Zijp (Utrecht University) and Maaike Bleeker (Utrecht University)
Credits: 1 ECTS (details below)
Registration: firstname.lastname@example.org (Open to RMA students, PhD candidates and academic staff)
Registration Deadline: 15 February 2023
While humour has long been considered frivolous and non-serious, in recent years, it has acquired a new cultural and political significance. Humour and comedy have taken centre stage in social and political debates around issues of identity, social justice, and freedom of speech. We witness the rise of increasingly transnational ‘humour scandals’ (Kuipers, 2011), often fueled by and played out on social media such as Twitter. Comedians such as Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais have been criticised for making disparaging jokes about minorities, and have responded to their critics by dedicating entire shows to the defense of humour. Most recently, Elon Musk purchased Twitter in response to the website’s ban of the conservative-minded, satirical website The Babylon Bee. When Musk’s critics started creating parody accounts of Twitter’s new CEO, Musk responded by suspending users and tightening the rules for accounts engaging in parody and satire.
The current, often explosive debates and struggles surrounding the limits of humour and free speech call for a better understanding of the relationship between humour and transgression. Therefore, NICA presents an afternoon of expert talks and discussions on the politics and aesthetics of transgressive humour. What are the moral and political implications of a humorous aesthetic of shock and provocation? Does humorous transgression free us from oppressive boundaries, as has often been claimed by comedians and humour scholars alike, or may it also reinforce social hierarchies and relationships of power? What does it tell us when conservative pundits and politicians adopt modes of provocative humour traditionally associated with left-wing radicalism and progressive rebellion, and present themselves a radical defenders of humorous speech? And do we witness the end of transgressive humour as a dominant cultural mode now that social justice movements, such as Black Lives Matter, the feminist movement, and trans rights activists, have drawn media attention with their attacks on disparaging jokes by comedians?
The afternoon will be kicked off by Dick Zijp, who will present an opening statement on humour and transgression based on his dissertation about the politics and aesthetics of (transgressive) humour in Dutch cabaret. This opening statement will be followed by keynotes of specialists in the field of humour studies and cultural analysis, who will reflect on the politics and aesthetics of transgressive humour in case studies from different national and cultural contexts: Dr. Nicholas Holm, Dr. Wigbertson Julian Isenia, and Dr. Veronika Zangl. The afternoon will be concluded with a panel discussion, followed by drinks.
- 12:30 – 13:00: Doors open
- 13:00 – 16:00: Talks & discussion
- 16:00 – 17:00: Drinks
Dr. Nicholas Holm is Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at Massey University (New Zealand). His research explores the political role of popular culture and entertainment media, with a particular focus on humour and comedy. He is the author of Humour as Politics: The Political Aesthetics of Contemporary Comedy (Palgrave, 2017), and has published on provocative humour, humour as edge-work, and fun as a political category.
Dr. Wigbertson Julian Isenia is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam. His dissertation, entitled ‘Queer Sovereignties,’ focuses on the cultural practices of sexual citizenship in the Dutch Caribbean. As part of this research, he has explored the role of the mariku as a homophobic caricature and comic figure in theatre and performance on Curaçao.
Dr. Veronika Zangl is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Theatre Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Her research focuses on dramaturgy, performance analysis, the (theatrical) representation of the Holocaust, humour, and popular theatre. She has published on the dramaturgies of humour in art and activism, and on humour as a form of interpellation in Nazi-Germany.
Dick Zijp, MA is a lecturer and external PhD candidate at the Department of Media and Cultural Studies at Utrecht University. In early 2023, he will defend his dissertation on the politics and aesthetics of humour in Dutch cabaret in the post-war period. He has published on transgressive humour, the re-politicisation of humour in the twenty-first century, and on comedy as a form of political community-building.
Readings and credits
- Holm, Nicholas. ‘Humour without Pity: The Scandal of Provocative Humour.’ In Humour as Politics: The Political Aesthetics of Contemporary Comedy. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017: 119-147.
- Zijp, Dick. ‘Transgression.’ In ‘Comedians without a Cause: The Politics and Aesthetics of Humour in Dutch Cabaret (1966-2020).’ Diss. Utrecht University, 2023. Forthcoming.
Students can obtain 1 ECTS by studying the assigned readings, submitting two discussion questions for one or more of the speakers, and attending the event. The questions will be answered during the panel discussion.
The discussion questions can be sent to email@example.com. Please indicate to whom the questions are addressed.
Deadline: Monday 20 February 2023, 17:00.