My guiding research question thus far has been: how do we talk about pop culture and how is this discourse tied up with gender and power? From my work on gender and stand-up comedy to my work on fan conversations on Twitter, I explore the ways in which we talk about pop culture — with our friends, in writers’ rooms, in local comedy scenes, on social media, in critics’ reviews, and in the press. I’m interested in whose voices dominate these discussions and who gets silenced, how these discourses shape who gets to make media and who is seen as a legitimate critic or creator, and how preferred meanings of texts are contested and solidified.
Broadly, my research theorizes popular media as a site of identity and community construction, focusing largely on audiences, critics, and fans as co-creators of meaning within popular culture. More specifically, I explore the ways in which gender and intersecting nodes of power and marginalization function within the production and reception of media texts. Methodologically, I draw largely on critical discourse analysis and ethnography to explore identity, representation and the articulation of ideologies and meaning, particularly how ideologies like “authenticity” shape the ways in which media is created and understood
My major ongoing research projects focus on stand-up comedy and on social media fan practices. I have been particularly interested in stand-up comedy both because it is a historically male-dominated field and because it is a site at which the boundary between fan and performer is constantly negotiated. I’m similarly interested in the ways in which social media fan discussions function as sites of community and identity creation as well as media paratexts. Below, I will outline the current stages of these projects and my plans for them going forward.
Dissertation Research: “Open Mic? Gender, Authenticity and Gatekeeping in Stand-Up Comedy Culture and Aesthetics”
Expanding beyond a textual analysis of jokes or performance, my dissertation project seeks to broaden the ways in which we study comedy by theorizing it as a field, an industry, and a subculture. Who gets to be a stand-up comic? What are the material barriers to entry? How does gender, race, and class shape one’s power within the stand-up comedy scene? How does discourse about what defines stand-up keep the field dominated by white, straight men? My overarching question being: how is the stand-up comedy industry shaped by discourses about what comedy is or isn’t?
More specifically, my project explores gender and the ideology of authenticity that currently dominates discussion of stand-up comedy by comics, fans, and critics through three case studies: 1) Debates on Twitter among fans and comics that construct “feminism” and “authentic comedy” as mutually exclusive endeavors; 2) The ways in which reviews by television critics of female-led comedies reinforce masculine aesthetics by invoking authenticity as a marker of quality; and 3) The subculture of local stand-up open mics and the means through which women and femme-identifying comics adapt to fit into masculine standards of authenticity both on and offstage. My work makes visible the ways in which raced and gendered definitions of “authenticity” function as ideological and material gatekeepers around stand-up comedy as an aesthetic form, a subcultural space, and a media industry. I draw on a variety of qualitative methodologies including ethnographic interviews of comics in Illinois, autoethnography of my own experience performing stand-up, discourse analysis of social media conversation, and textual analysis of television and television reviews.
I have started publishing work from my dissertation in online outlets like In Media Res and Flow Journal, and am currently preparing a journal manuscript based on my chapter on television reviews and gendered critiques of comedy. Additionally, I plan to tie my chapter on social media conversation into my larger project on Twitter fandom and to expand my ethnographic research into a book-length project on the relationship between the stand-up comedy industry and local stand-up scenes. Specifically, I want to further explore at how gender, race, and class shape systems through which comics move through the entertainment industry pipeline, how identity shapes stand-up comedy as a subculture, and how interpersonal relationships play a role in local and national comedic success.
My second ongoing project examines audience and fandom, specifically the blurred boundary between fan and producer and the process through which meaning is articulated through audience paratexts like critical reviews, blogs, and social media conversation. I’m specifically interested in the ways in which online fandom serves not only as a site of shared interest for a pop culture text but often also as sites of discussion, education, support, or play. For instance, the host of Mental Illness Happy Hour, a comedic podcast about mental health, created a message board for fans that now functions as support group. My sites of study also include Comedy Central’s late-night panel show @Midnight and Freeform’s teen drama Switched at Birth. My work on @Midnight focuses on stand-up comics as transmedia performers and on Twitter as a site of play and performance for both fans and comics, while my work on Switched at Birth, which will be published in Transformative Works and Cultures in March of 2018, explores the educational function of the online discussion surrounding a 2015 story arc about sexual assault. My final site of study will examine the social media fan engagement being done by the Christian film production and distribution company PureFlix in an effort to explore the relationship between pop culture, fandom and religious faith.
Research, Pedagogy, and Practice
As a feminist media scholar and a critical-cultural scholar, I see my research in terms of scholarship, pedagogy and practice. I therefore strive to merge my scholarly interests with both teaching and public engagement, for instance, in creating performance spaces and media projects, writing for online publications, and developing campus and community programs. Thus far, I’ve co-created a stand-up comedy showcase for women and queer performers, helped to develop a social justice theater and media literacy after-school program for teen girls, and am currently acting as the graduate student rep for the comedy and humor studies Scholarly Interest Group within the Society and Media Studies. I plan to continue with these projects in addition to seeking new avenues for creating interventions through my research, writing, and teaching like partnering with filmmakers to produce documentaries based on my work, co-authoring projects with online fan communities, or developing courses that draw on comedy, storytelling, and fandom.