Give it to your damn selves: exploring black feminist humor and thought
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This thesis focuses on the use of feminist humor as a method of coalition building among African American women. It is motivated by the central question: what are the ways in which comedic performances may act as both a rebellious counter to dominant views of women of color in the United States and a way to articulate feminist ideologies? More specifically, I am interested in how African American women utilize comedy to articulate specific standpoints and build solidarity. As comedy is often used to persuade and perhaps bond audiences, it is important to continue research in the rhetoric of humor—especially that which takes into account comedy that challenges hegemonic systems and builds cohesion among oppressed groups. I wish to address ways in which theories of humor may work to include not only feminist modes comedy, but performances that also address the intersections of oppressions—including race, class, sexuality, etc. I will be examining the 2001 film The Queens of Comedy starring standup comedians Laura Hayes, Adele Givens, Sommore, and Mo’Nique. A follow-up on the 2000 movie and live standup tour The Original Kings of Comedy, the film depicts the four women’s comedic routines at the Orpheum Theatre in front of a predominately Black and predominately female audience. I argue that the Queens’ use of humor acts as a method to articulate intersections of oppression from a Black female perspective. This creates a specific counterpublic space, defies dominant views of Black American women and fosters cohesion among sympathetic audiences. The first chapter works towards a theory of feminist humor—one that builds off of current comedy research by integrating radical feminist thought (mostly that of Black feminisms). Chapter two identifies anti-feminist dimensions of the Queens’ performances in order to understand unsuccessful (and perhaps harmful) methods of rhetorical humor. Chapter three closely examines dimensions of the Queens’ performances that articulate Black feminist thought and how those performances encourage coalition building among Black women. Chapter four will draw critical implications and address concerns for those interested in humor as a method of encouraging social stability and change.