"I don't enjoy my work": A Response to Lindfors.

Author:Brodie, Ian
Position:Responses - Antti Lindfors

Antti Lindfors makes a significant contribution not only to stand-up scholarship but to the folkloristic study of performance in his piece, "Spatiotemporal Management of Stand-Up Performances: Narration and Gestures." Stand-up comedy begins in the verbal art-as-play contexts of small group, ludic interaction: small talk, bullshitting, talking shit, skitsprat (Bauman 1972; Mukerji 1979; Bell 1978; Klein 2006). Within those vernacular frames, one of the participants will often take (or be given) temporary focus and become the 'performer', and will subsequently control the flow of talk by meeting the operative expectations of verbal fluency and topical relevance. The professionalization of stand-up comedy brings that form of small talk (vernacular bullshit) to a larger group context, and the stand-up comedian's success is contingent in recognizing the operative expectations in group's different from his or her own.

Fortunately for the comedian, there are also expectations for the genre "stand-up comedy" that include a certain eclecticism, and mechanics of the stand-up comedy industry, such as an introduction by an established interlocutor, that serve to frame that eclecticism, so that the stage transforms into an area where two socioculturally distinguishable sets of expectations are negotiated and--if only lasting for the duration of the performance--a syncretic set emerges. (1) All of this is to say that, taking provisos about the differences of professional and vernacular bullshit into consideration, Lindfors' analysis of gesture in stand-up comedy can provide further insight into the use of gesture in vernacular verbal art. I am endeavoring, however, to keep it to a study of stand-up, and I am limiting myself to a few areas of contemplation.

Lindfors makes the observation that stand-up is a "genre of embodied performance of self-presentation in which the bodily and visual co-presence of performers and audiences is paramount" (p. 46). I agree with this position, and also affirm that "Stand-up comedy is the only mass-mediated cultural performance activity whose normative consumable product is a recording of a live event" (Brodie 2014, 34). The Josie Long performance under analysis is such an example. But we should also remember that it is a recording that culminated after significant touring and a month at the Edinburgh Festival, filmed at The Comedy Box in Bristol, using three cameras (Long 2008). The home viewing audience is experiencing the same created storyworld as the audience at The Comedy Box, not from the more-or-less fixed viewpoint at the venue, but through a sequence of camera shots taken from different angles framing Long at different magnifications: close-up; medium; full-body.

For example, the sequence Lindfors has labelled 2 f) through k) begins with a back of house shot where the audience is in silhouette at the bottom half of the screen and where Long is visible from the waist up. She walks to the left and then, after "tentatively," the screen cuts to a three-quarter shot positioned at the left so that she is now walking towards the viewer. At g) the back of house shot returns, and halfway through h), after "whose job it was," a close-up from a similar angle. Finally, at j), the camera returns to the back of house shot. As viewers we have a grammar for cinematography and editing; we can therefore easily read the performance as one continuous thing and will not be thrown by a change in perspective. The six gestural moments are accentuated by five different shots...

To continue reading