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.