Conference on Comedy & Critical Thought: Laughter as Resistance? – 3-4 May 2016

The Centre for Critical Thought, the Centre for Comic and Popular Performance and the Aesthetics Research Centre at the University of Kent are hosting a conference on:


a two-day interdisciplinary conference scheduled on Tuesday 3 and Wednesday 4 May 2016 at the University of Kent in Canterbury.

This interdisciplinary conference invites delegates to reflect on the possible role of comedy as critique. Critique, which finds its expression in both theory and practice, has  a long and turbulent history. Yet the issue of what it means to be critical and voice alternatives to the political and economic status quo now seems to be more important than ever. Several sites of resistance have recently developed in globalised society. It should come as no surprise that alongside Occupy, Anonymous and worldwide student protests, laughter is also part of the global emancipatory cry for alternatives. Throughout history, comedians and clowns have enjoyed a certain freedom to speak frankly often denied to others in hegemonic systems. Think only of King Lear’s ‘all-licensed Fool’ or Bakhtin’s conception of the carnivalesque. More recently, professional comedians like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have developed platforms of comic license from which to critique the traditional political establishment and have managed to play an important role in interrogating and mediating the processes of politics in contemporary society. However, as it always has been in the past, these comic truth-speakers face the problem of co-option: are these comic voices genuinely effective in their critique or do they function as a mere safety valve tolerated to vent off dangerous steam? In this respect, comedy is not always necessarily critical but can also reinforce the status quo and function as a conservative tool or even as an exclusionary mechanism in the service of hierarchical power relations.

Whether recognised as a safe release for social tensions, a conservative reassertion of the dominant order through cruel laughter, or as a form of critical expression which may trouble and destabilise the status quo, comedy’s force warrants closer investigation.

Confirmed keynote speakers are Professor Alan Finlayson (University of East Anglia), Professor James Williams (Deakin University) and Dr Robert Porter (Ulster University). Delegates are also cordially invited to attend the annual Linda Smith Lecture on the evening of Tuesday 3 May, which will this year be delivered by British comedian Andy Hamilton. This conference further ties into the exhibition ‘There is an alternative! A selection of critical comics and cartoons’ which will run free of charge from 2 May to 1 July 2016 at the university’s Templeman Library. Projected conference fee is £15 to cover catering on both days (with concessions available for postgraduates). Please contact Dr Iain MacKenzie ( or Dieter Declerq ( for more information.

To register for the conference click here.

The conference organisers:

Dr Iain Mackenzie, Dr Krista Bonello-Rutter-Giappone, Dr Oliver Double, Dieter Declercq and Fred Francis