Public Lecture by Rebecca Krefting

Hannah Gadsby: Emotional Capital and Affective Economies in Stand-Up Comedy

Rebecca Krefting (Skidmore College, USA; President of the American Humor Studies Association)

November 10, 2022 at 4 p.m. in the Conference Room of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (Uni Szeged)

Being a stand-up comedian requires skills: the ability to craft jokes and perform them; the capacity to “read the room” and adapt material during the performance; and facility with networking with fellow comics and industry gatekeepers. Comedians are performers as much as they are business entrepreneurs for their own brand. Negotiating these demands requires emotional capital, a concept connected to but departing from Pierre Bourdieu’s notions of cultural and social capital. Emotional capital “is a tripartite concept composed of emotion-based knowledge, management skills, and capacities to feel that links self-processes and resources to group membership and social location.” (Cottingham 2016, 452). Like other forms of capital, it is unequally distributed and identity-contingent. High levels of performances of emotional capital can inform success by ensuring good working relationships with others in the industry and developing content that will effectively elicit laughter across communities. Comics attuned to patterns of comedy patronage understand that they are selling entertainment as well as an emotional experience and learn to comply with affective dictates of this performance genre. But not all comics are compliant, nor can they be when affective demands posing as natural are meant to favor cis-gendered, heterosexual white men. By contrast, Tasmanian native Hannah Gadsby is a gender non-conforming, neurodiverse, white, lesbian stand-up comedian whose very existence in comedy venues as well as the comic material itself troubles traditional constructions of emotional capital necessary for effective comedy performance while simultaneously defying the emotions typically demanded from comic performances. She resists and is sometimes unable to deploy the kinds of emotional capital presumed necessary for securing success in the industry. Gadsby’s perceived deficiencies in emotional capital, tells us much about the ascendant affective economies circulating today—in green rooms and on stages across the world.

Cottingham, Marci D.  2016. “Theorizing Emotional Capital,” Theory and Society 45 (5): 451-470.

Rebecca Krefting, who goes by Beck, is Professor of American Studies and Director of the Center for Leadership, Teaching, and Learning. Her research specializations are feminist comedy studies; histories and historiographies of stand-up comedy; preppers and post-apocalyptic cultural texts; and pedagogical studies. Her monograph titled: All Joking Aside: American Humor and Its Discontents (Johns Hopkins UP) charts the history and economy of charged humor or humor aimed at social justice. She has published dozens of articles about stand-up comedy in edited collections, academic journals, and public forums and has presented nationally and internationally at universities and comedy symposiums, most recently at Dresden University of Technology and Leipzig University in Germany.

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