Deadpan Comedy and Personal Narratives in Contemporary Art

Eyres, Erica (2018) Deadpan Comedy and Personal Narratives in Contemporary Art. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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Abstract

Audience response to deadpan comedy is most often polarized between reactions of awkward silence and hysterical laughter. Such division is further widened when deadpan is used to perform autobiography. The purpose of this research is to better understand this phenomenon by identifying the ways in which deadpan performances affect the readings of personal narratives in contemporary art practices. It investigates instances of deadpan’s slippage between autobiography and fiction through practice-based methodologies focused on the use of personal narratives deployed in my own artwork, as well those used by other contemporary artists. This is supported in the written thesis by a wider examination of the use of deadpan strategies in contemporary television sitcom and cinema, and further contextualized by critical reflection on theories of comedy and deadpan developed within the fields of philosophy and comedy studies. Much of the research centers on the importance of performativity within deadpan comedy, and this is reflected through the use of personal narrative performed in my practiced-based research and manifest in the video, drawing and sculptural components as well as the practice of the context-specific performances I have recently developed within this doctoral research. This research places emphasis on the role of the performer and is juxtaposed with writing that reflects on how these deadpan characteristics inform my own videos, sculptures and drawings. This PhD first establishes a clear definition of deadpan, one expressed through the lowering of affect through a series of masks that teasingly reveal and conceal personal narrative. I argue that this strategy has a flattening effect, not only on the performer and their environment, but also the audience, whereby expectations and structures of the context become evident. The audience is thus forced to engage more actively by questioning what is ‘authentically’ autobiographical, and what is fiction. In this situation, the audience confronts their own impulses whether to laugh or not. In this respect, the thesis differentiates deadpan from other forms of comedy by arguing against Henri Bergson’s concept of comedy as a social phenomenon: Since deadpan does not necessarily result in laughter but awkwardness and discomfort, this research seeks to define the outer boundaries of deadpan that embody melancholia and cruelty. Explicitly articulating this narrative, the research serves to create a richer context for works that exemplify deadpan and to redress the insufficient lexicon of language surrounding deadpan comedy in contemporary artistic discourse.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Parody, Appropriation, Humour, Performance, Laughter
Subjects: W400 Drama
W900 Others in Creative Arts and Design
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Arts
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: Paul Burns
Date Deposited: 23 Oct 2019 09:54
Last Modified: 25 Oct 2019 16:15
URI: http://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/41201

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