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Theorising Comedic Immunity: Or, What Do You Get When You Cross Contemporary Comedy with Disability?

Rebecca Mallett, Sheffield Hallam University


This paper takes seriously Albrecht's (1999:67) assertion that "[d]rawing attention to disability humour serves several useful purposes on theoretical and pragmatic levels" and explores the relationship between comedy and disability as a problematic realm with the potential to tell us much about the current discursive limits of both disability representation and disability criticism.

In distinguishing between the comic (that which makes us laugh) and comedy (as the field of comedic forms) it will examine some moments where disability acts as a critical irritant in a number of contemporary comedy series and stand-up routines. Through these moments, the paper will explore whether comedy is being granted immunity from 'critical correctness', and if it is not, what implications a positioning as 'culpable' has for the development of a critical engagement with comedic representations of disability. Within this it seeks to pose questions about how the theoretical interrogations already developed in relation to the comedic representation of other 'marginalised identities' could be usefully transferred to interrogate 'disability'.

Finally, this paper seeks to highlight the political implications, for cultural studies of disability, of examining a highly influential cultural mode which is generally recognised has having an institutional requirement for indecorum and transgression.

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