Keynote Address

The National Cultures of English-Language Comedy symposium will begin at 18:00 on 16 November with a keynote address by Brett Mills, Senior Lecturer at the University of East Anglia. To register for the keynote, please visit our Eventbrite page.

Keynote Description

“Communities of Laughter: Comedy and the Making of the Nation”

We live, we are told, in a transnational, globalised, ever-shrinking world. The international flows of media, they say, render boundaries permeable, and people see themselves as citizens of the world. But some things remain stubbornly national, and two of these are the focus of this conference. While the technology of television enables broadcasting to travel beyond borders, the regulations that constitute contemporary broadcasting persist in maintaining national borders. And comedy, too, persists in being wedded to ideas of the nation, as both evidence of, and a contributor to, how nations make sense of themselves and others. Benedict Anderson famously interprets nations as “imagined communities” whose origin and persistence lies in their “cultural roots” that powerfully tie people together (1983: 7). In his analysis of culture Anderson, of course, omits comedy; this is to be expected given that comedy is routinely written out of cultural analysis and still fights to achieve the analytical legitimacy it deserves. But what happens if the idea of the nation is examined in terms of comedy and humour? To what extent does comedy play a vital role in the ‘imaginings’ Anderson proposes? This paper will explore what happens if a vital contributor to ‘imagined communities’ is seen to be ‘communities of laughter’; that is, that one of the ways nations define themselves is by their sense of humour (and, by extension, by that sense of humour’s differences to those of other nations). It will do so through analysis of television comedy which too fulfils a role in enabling nations to imagine themselves. Is there something particular about comedy that enables it to function in these ways, and what are the consequences of these ‘communities of laughter’?

Brett Mills is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Art, Media and American Studies at the University of East Anglia. He received his Ph.D. from Canterbury Christ Church College with a focus on television sitcom. He has published widely on comedy and popular television, including three books: Television Sitcom (British Film Institute, 2005), The Sitcom (Edinburgh University Press, 2009), and Creativity in the British Television Comedy Industry (Routledge, 2016). He has also published journal articles in a wide variety of publications, including Screen, Television and New Media, Journal of Popular Television, Journal of British Cinema and Television, European Journal of Cultural Studies, Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies, and Celebrity Studies, and he has edited and co-edited special editions of Participations, Comedy Studies, and Critical Studies in Television. His interest in teaching and pedagogy has also resulted in co-authoring the text book Reading Media Theory: Thinkers, Approaches, Contexts (Pearson, 2009/12), now in its second edition.

Symposium Information

The National Cultures of English-Language TV Comedy symposium is a go!

Hosted by the University of Notre Dame’s London Global Gateway, the event will begin on 16 November at 6pm with a keynote address from Brett Mills, Senior Lecturer in Film and Television Studies at the University of East Anglia. The keynote will be open to the public (registration info to come) and followed by a reception and then dinner for the symposium participants.

Symposium papers will be delivered on Friday, 17 November. The day will begin at 8:30 with introductions, and at 9 we will start the first of four panels, with breaks for coffee/tea and lunch. We’ll wrap up the event by 4:30pm.

The invited participants and their paper titles are listed below, organized into panels. If any speakers have questions or concerns about their placement, please contact Christine Becker.

The symposium is made possible by generous funding and sponsorship from the University of Notre Dame’s Nanovic Institute for European Studiesthe Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, College of Arts and Letters; and the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre.


Panel 1: Crossing Comedic Borders
Marcus Free, Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick, “Finding and Eluding the ‘National’ in the Television Comedy and Commentaries of Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews”

Taylor Nygaard, University of Denver, and Jorie Lagerwey, University College Dublin, “Catastrophe and Transatlantic Horrible White People”

Heather Osborne-Thompson, California State University Fullerton, “Children’s TV Animation as Transnational Comedy”


Panel 2: Comedic Representation and Transnational Reception
David Scott Diffrient, Colorado State University, “‘Half the World Away’: Cultural Distance and Intertextual (In)Competence in the American Reception of British TV Comedy”

Clive Marsh, Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning, University of Leicester, “Religion’s Public Visibility: The Big Bang Theory as a Test-Case”

Philip Scepanski, Marist College, “Something in a Lighter Vein: Parody and Affective History Across Borders”

Panel 3: Transnational Comedy Television in Post-Communist Cultures
Anna Martonfi, University of East Anglia, “From Sitcom to Flying Circus: Cultural Negotiation Tactics and the Trope of English Humour”

Julia Havas, University of East Anglia, “‘Alec Baldwin is a genius, Tina Fey is tolerable’: Issues of Nation and Gender in the Hungarian Critical and Popular Reception of 30 Rock

Gábor Gergely, University of Lincoln, “Anti-German stereotypes in Black-Adder and Fekete Vipera

Panel 4: Comedy and National Tensions
Emma Radley, University College Dublin, “Céad Míle Zombies: Recession, Austerity, and Apocalypse in Conor McMahon’s Zombie Bashers (RTÉ, 2010)”

Nicole Seymour, California State University Fullerton, “National Critiques of Environmentalism in Contemporary TV Comedy”

Mark Stewart, University of Amsterdam, “Funny Girls: Making Feminist Comedy in New Zealand”