Racism in comedy reappraised: Back to Little England?

Authors: Peters, Lloyd1; Becker, Sue2

Source: Comedy Studies, Volume 1, Number 2, 1 September 2010 , pp. 191-200(10)

Publisher: Intellect

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This article was originally researched to consider issues of taste in the self-proclaimed New British Comedy (circa 20032009) exemplified by television, film and stage shows of the previous decade, such as Little Britain, Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat and Mock the Week. Considering the contemporary and continuing debate concerning the divide between satire and inappropriate racist offence, the article now considers and focuses on reappraising racism in comedy, with particular reference to the trends that emerged in the Little Britain series of this era. As American commentators mark the fiftieth anniversary of the original publication in 1960 of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (1989) through a critical reflection on racism in contemporary American culture, the authors believe it is timely to revisit the ways in which comedy reflects broader British attitudes towards race and racial stereotypes. A number of traditional social psychological theories will be used to explain why racist humour is still prevalent in Britain's multicultural society. In particular, the article will seek to illustrate the ways in which developments in contemporary comedy reflect the move from what is termed old-fashioned racism to what Gaertner and Dovidio (1986) term aversive racism. The article will then develop the argument to illustrate the ways in which the interactional qualities that exemplify aversive racism are manifested in the broader socio-political context as principled racism that warrants racist humour through the rhetoric of race-blind liberal principles (Sniderman et al. 1991).

Early drafts of a paper on which this article was based were presented at Leicester De Montfort University Symposium (2008), The International Federation for Theatre Research Conference Political Performance Working Group in Stellenbosch, South Africa (2007) and The Salford International Comedy Conference (2007).

Keywords: David Walliams; Little Britain; Matt Lucas; aversive racism; principled racism; racism; stigma; television comedy

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/cost.1.2.191_1

Affiliations: 1: University of Salford. 2: Teesside University.

Publication date: September 1, 2010

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  • Comedy Studies covers multiple aspects of comedy, with articles about both contemporary and historical comedy, interviews with practicing comedians and writers, reviews, letters and editorials. The journal seeks to be instrumental in creating interdisciplinary discourse about the nature and practice of comedy, providing a forum for the disparate voices of comedians, academics and writers.
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