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Stand-up comedy and the legacy of the mature vagina

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This article explores the work of older female comedians who explicitly refer to their sexed bodies, and their vaginas in particular, as a playfully political discursive strategy. At its heart are a number of stand-up performances made since 2000 by Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers and Roseanne Barr, informed and supported by their performances in a variety of other forms and media (including reality television, talk shows and auto/biographical writing). These performances draw attention to the relationship between performative utterance and visuality through the tropes of public confession and allusions to cosmetic surgery and aging genitalia. This can be risky in a genre in which staged persona, body and performance material are so closely yoked. Despite their different ages and signature practices, Diller, Rivers and Barr can be seen to be working in a professional lineage of female comedians, including Sophie Tucker, Jackie “Moms” Mabley, Belle Barth, Pearl Williams and LaWanda Page, who have foregrounded their own sexuality as aging women. In their redeployment of taboos which mark the female body as grotesque and unruly, these women expose the scopic regimes that limit how post-menopausal women are read, and thereby erased, in the public realm.
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Keywords: aging; comedy; cosmetic surgery; performance; sexuality

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Plymouth, United Kingdom

Publication date: 2012-03-01

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