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”



Symposium CFP

Are You Having a Laugh? National Cultures of English-Language Television Comedy

English-language television comedy is circulating transnationally more than ever before, as Americans watch the Irish comedy Moone Boy on Hulu and British comedy panel shows like Have I Got News For You on YouTube; Netflix brings the BBC’s Miranda and RTE imports CBS’s 2 Broke Girls to Irish shores; the most popular sitcom on British television, Mrs. Brown’s Boys, is created by an Irish performer; Australia’s Please Like Me defied low ratings at home and rode overseas acclaim all the way to an International Emmy Award nomination; and the most critically acclaimed sitcom airing transatlantically is the US-UK co-production Catastrophe, which takes place in London and features American and Irish comedians as its lead performers. However, as Brett Mills and Erica Horton write, “Despite globalization and complex international circuits of culture the significance of nation remains central to television in terms of content, production, and purpose” (Creativity in the British Television Comedy Industry, Routledge 2017, 3). This statement resonates more for comedy than other television genres given that humor is often steeped in transgressions of nationally defined social norms and satire draws upon knowledge of culturally specific identities and politically relevant topics. So where do national cultures of English-language television comedy stand in this era of burgeoning transnational flows?

The University of Notre Dame’s London Global Gateway will host a symposium on this topic during the Fall 2017 semester. Accordingly, the symposium’s organizers invite proposals for 20-minute presentations on national cultures of television comedy within and across such countries as the United States, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, and Canada. Questions symposium papers could address include: To what extent are national origins and identities still embedded within the DNA of television comedy emerging from these individual countries? What qualities define the distinctive essence of American humor, British humour, and greann Éireannach on television today? What comedic and narrative elements find resonance transnationally, and what are audiences responding to in television comedies that originate from countries other than their own? How might issues of race, gender, class, and nationality either resonate or recede as a series circulates internationally? In an era when American remakes like The Office, Getting On, and Veep have found appreciative audiences, is even the notoriously challenging U.S.-to-U.K. adaptation process getting easier? How do TV comedies from smaller-market countries carve out a presence in dominant markets like the U.S. and U.K.? How have changing modes of production, methods of distribution, and economic climates affected television comedy content in these countries? What aesthetic, cultural, political, and industrial catalysts are most relevant to all of these developments?

The symposium will take place at the University of Notre Dame’s Global Gateway academic center in London on November 16 and 17. The event is co-organized by Christine Becker, University of Notre Dame, and Jorie Lagerwey, University College Dublin. A university press-published collection is expected to emerge from this gathering. Funds to offset travel and lodging may be available but cannot be guaranteed until a later date.

We are also excited to announce that the symposium’s keynote speaker will be Brett Mills, senior lecturer at the University of East Anglia. They keynote address will take place on the evening of Thursday, November 16. The symposium will follow on Friday.

To be considered for participation in the symposium, please submit a 250-word abstract appropriate for a 20-minute presentation plus a 150-word biography to Christine Becker at no later than August 1, 2017. Please direct any questions about the symposium to this email address as well.