All Jokes Aside – Indexing Gender and Race in Stand-Up Comedy

Ammi Lane-Volz, Cate Dark, Ava Kaiser, Grace Shoemaker, Alex Farfan

As playful and harmless as something titled “comedy” can seem, the political and cultural implications of what is deemed funny are not insignificant. From stand-up performance to jokes around the water cooler, comedy is used as a tool to socially bond, establish hierarchy, critique global affairs, and index identity. Our project set out to explore how stand-up comedians index their identities through mimicry, contrast, and slurs, specifically focusing on how they index themselves as part of versus separate from gendered and racial groups. We studied the specials of ten stand-up comedians from the Netflix series The Standups to see if they more often tended to align their identities through references to their own demographics (in-group indexing) or through references to outside groups (out-group indexing). We found several patterns that emerged, including higher instances of non-white comedians mentioning their race (three times more often), 60% of which consisted of in-group indexing. We also found the opposite to be true for gender, with men referencing gender almost twice as often as the female comedians, 55% of which consisted of out-group indexing. These patterns invite several follow-up questions on the different tactics comedians use when writing their sets and how their choices might be influenced by their place in society and membership of different social majority or minority groups.

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