Theoretical perspectives

  • Frances Gray
Part of the Women in Society book series


Some readers may have a sense of déjà vu as they examine this section. When I began this book I imagined discovering, guiltily, how out-of-date my knowledge of comic theory is, that complex and passionate debates by critics of both sexes about the relationship between laughter and gender were so well established that even non-specialists could point me towards the relevant texts. It wasn’t like that. I did find exciting work by women which dealt with specific comic practitioners — generally literary practitioners — and offered insights into comic theory on the way. But when it came to discussing and defining ‘humour’, there seemed to be very little that was new. The students I talked to who were doing courses on ‘comedy’ seemed to be reading texts which grounded themselves in the same assumptions about gender as those I read as an undergraduate twenty-five years ago; which means that to attend a course on ‘comedy’ in an academic environment is still to learn a vocabulary that serves to reassert the idea of female humourlessness. Perhaps I should not have been surprised. Regina Barreca suggests that ‘feminist criticism has generally avoided the discussion of comedy, perhaps in order to be accepted by conservative critics who found feminist theory comic in and of itself’.1 Barreca’s own 1988 volume, by combining jokes, analysis and comic theory, thus created a significant milestone in political as well as in cultural terms.


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© Frances Gray 1994

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  • Frances Gray

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