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THOUGHTS

ON AUTO-ETHNOGRAPHY

& COMEDY SHOWS

THOUGHTS

THOUGHTS

THOUGHTS

THOUGHTS

THOUGHTS

THOUGHTS

THOUGHTS

THOUGHTS

THOUGHTS

THOUGHTS

Going to comedy shows, talking to comedians and audience members, I can tell that my observations and encounters, the conversations and the difficulties around edgy topics are something bigger than just my experiences. I could have simply said comedy is not my thing. But I will keep asking comedians why they go on stage. What their statement and their message is. What ethics mean to them. This is not about (self-)censorship. This is an invitation to have conversations and to remind ourselves of the value of different perspectives and open minds.

With this statement written down, I welcome you dear reader on this page that is full with thoughts.

If you scroll down, you will find different kinds of documents such as text parts, a drawing, a video.

These were created as part of my studies under the guidance of Zoya Sardashti in a module on auto-ethnography at the Home of Performance Practices at ArtEZ university.

If you have any questions or feel like having a conversation about anything you discovered here, please reach out to me - my mail adress is in the contact section.

For several months by now I have been busy with a quote by Judith Butler:

“Equality is thus a feature of social relations that depends for its articulation on an increasingly avowed interdependency—letting go of the body as a “unit” in order to understand one’s boundaries as relational and social predicaments: including sources of joy, susceptibility to violence, sensitivity to heat and cold, tentacular yearnings for food, sociality, and sexuality.”

- Butler, J. (2021): The Force of Nonviolence: An Ethico Political Bind 

 

When I tried to let go of the idea of my body as a unit I did it at the bus station. Everyday for a whole week. My experience of these days: While I started to feel smoother, softer, reaching out combined with a feeling of partly dissolving, at some point anxiety took over my body. Every day. The anxiety was fighting against every possible smoothness and I felt the urge to stop, to change my body position and to isolate. One day I felt the urge to express with my body something that I would describe as an idea of patriarchy. I didn't like myself in that moment but I felt I had to do it to survive this waiting at the bus station. 

Did I - when I tried to let go of myself as unit - enter the energy fields of the people around me? What would happen if all of us standing there, waiting would let go of being a unit?

I feel a similar anxiety from time to time when I am confronted with stand-up comedy. So I started to wonder about social relations, about what Butler said.

What would happen if people would try to let go of the body as unit at a comedy show?

When I think of hosting I think of comedy shows. When I think of comedy shows I think of my last summer. This is my story - the story of a creature* navigating themselves in the world of comedy... 

In summer 2022 I was invited to join a comedy residency in Germany, together with 8 more participants. This residency was connected to a comedy festival, with the purpose to bring together practitioners of the field and the cabaret offspring. Different comedians performed their shows in the festival and the next day gave a lecture or workshop to the participants of the course. The organizer and host (let’s call him H.) of the festival and course is a comedian himself and he also gave workshops in between. So far so good. Amazing idea I thought. The course was 2 weeks, after 12 days I got kicked out.

H. was performing a monthly satiric show. He offered to end the festival with a special edition of his show by opening it up for all the participants to perform a solo and additionally group numbers if desired. His part was the hosting between the performances. For creating the content of these bits, he offered a session on collecting topics and a lecture on how to write jokes. We basically started to create the moderation together. At some point a joke was thrown in the round. I will not reproduce this joke. But I will outline a few elements of it:

The joke was punching towards a party in the German government. 

To formulate the joke the language that was used included racist terms.

By this it created a punch down on native Americans.

It reproduced hidden racism. 

*FOOTNOTE

creature [noun]: a living thing, real or imaginary, that can move around, such as an animal. (Oxford dictionary, 2023)

I claim this term for myself as living being, as human. I do this to once again place myself out of the binary and I don't see it dehumanizing at all. Another reason is to open up the restrictions of language which might even include a shift away from the anthropocentric. 

I use it because I feel it suits me in the wish that we can influence who we are and who we want to be seen as. In the sense of the Latin origin creare: to create, to build

Seeing just these elements listed they appear to me like a bad joke themselves when I think of the cultural and historical context they are merged together.

The joke was immediately questioned by several people but H. didn’t allow a discussion about it.

Days passed without the possibility to address this incident within the group again. The evening before the show someone asked H. if he is now using the joke for his moderation. He said yes. I asked him about the exact wording. He said the way we had it in the workshop session because it is a technically correct structured joke. What followed was a three hour discussion about how the group didn’t feel okay by having this joke in a show with shared authorship and H. insisting on having the right to tell it. He was using the term cancel culture a lot. I tried to share my values. Discussion is the wrong word actually. There was no room to negotiate and that fact still hurts me.

I told him that I cannot share the stage with racism.

I still would like to support the group in any other way - by cooking, stage set up, running the bar, selling tickets or documenting.

He refused my offer “this will then not be needed from you.”

The next morning H. told me "so you're going home today". 

I made another attempt to talk about what had happened, to clear up resentment. He blocked this attempt. Two more people were expelled from the course.

He cancelled us. 

This experience is far from normal. Which is a good thing. Other observations I made during the festival are more common in the comedy scene.

A common thing for comedy shows in the German scene is still to have a “token woman”. Men are much more invited to perform in the shows than women (also, only the binary exists here, everyone else is invisible). In the festival there were seven comedians performing - one of them a woman. Deeply rooted in societal thinking and gladly picked up by producers of comedy shows.

autoethnography sketch

Another incident:

A middle aged white cis man was performing. The first one in this festival. He makes fun of gender identity. His age-wise rather old German audience loved his show.

I find myself being talked about. On a stage. With an audience that enjoys laughing about gender. The show is not there to support myself or other people that are actually busy with identities. It is not holding up a mirror to the audience to say “ look, have you realized a pattern you are doing? Let’s laugh about it and then think about it’

No, the mirror was pointed in my direction asking me “look, do you realize how much work and change I need to do because you don’t want to fit in my binary thinking?!!”

Of course I am curious to hear about the comedian's opinion on his show. 

I ask him: “why do you go on stage?” 

He tells me why he writes poetry and why he loves music. 

I keep asking “but why do you go on stage to do comedy?” 

He replied by asking if I want to trap him in a philosophical conversation. 

I say “No. I don’t wanna trap anyone. I am here to learn.”

He never gave me an answer to why he does comedy. In fact, he started to leave the room every time I entered. I hope he is now constantly busy thinking about this question. And for the very unlikely case he ever reads this and recognizes himself in this description -. please reach out to me - I don’t bite, I just wanna talk!

Comedy has the potential to take current issues from the societal context and use the power of bringing people together through their laughter to make a change. Why is it that a lot of the times that I have encountered comedy shows they just take an existing structure, a societal pattern and reproduce it? And by doing this not realizing how this impacts their shows and messages which in the end is what they bring back to the society? 

Going in circles.

These last sentences are of course a generalization - based on my experiences.

I need to say that I have also seen and talked with comedians (also cis men!) who… 

are constantly busy with ethics, 

who try to fight for their values, 

and minority groups, 

and and and. 

Which makes me question the whole construct even more. 

Comedy has the power to address issues. Why not using it? This is an invitation to laugh.

I dream of reshaping. Of re-hosting.

I dream of a host who doesn't misgender me. For the start - then we dream further. This board of the game isn't prepared for equality yet. But I would like to in the end show a different kind of playground. This video was made during the workshop on autoethnography. In a week I wasn't misgendered once. 

I place it here because of the multiplicity of voices and actions. It was an experimentation in a safe space in a safe time and it makes me dream. I want to host what I observed here:

listening

connection

overlaps

empowerment

This is not the end of the thoughts but the end of the page. Thank you for the time you spent here.

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