"Black Laughter Matters" with Prof. Bambi Haggins
Department: Film and Media StudiesDate and Time: April 13, 2017 | 4:00 PM-6:00 PM
Event Location: Humanities Hall 303
Black Laughter Matters: Blackness and Comedy in the Age of Obama and Beyond
Professor Bambi Haggins
Thursday, April 13 - 4:00 pm
Humanities Hall 303
Black comedy is always already a reflection and refraction of the changing Black American condition. Like identity itself, Black humor is simultaneously fluid and evolving, resilient and deeply rooted in a history that is still being written. Often, the consumption of Black comedy is seen as a signifier for the “down-ness” of a mainstream audience, acting as a measure of cultural cool, and, in some instances, industrial marketability. However, its potential for articulating what it means to be living while Black in the US is undervalued. By utilizing Black standup comedy, an accessible and ubiquitous art form, as a means of discussing the Black American condition, I believe that readers/students are more open to engaging comic discourse that elicits critical thinking amidst the laughter. The focus upon accessibility and more than a tip of the hat to the common sense discourse of lay theory, affords a more expansive and inclusive space to talk about the Black condition in the 21st century. As an excerpt of a larger work, I engage the acts of comics, who embrace varying degrees of socio-cultural specificity and/or racial critique, in relation to the politics of respectability, or as I like to say, “acting right,” in the 21st century and its intersection with the presidency of Barack Obama. In addition, there are ruminations on the clearly refutation of a Post Racial America in the waning months of the 44th president’s administration. If, as Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted,” then Black comedy plays a vital strategic role in getting people to “stay woke” and vigilant in terms of confronting issues of anti-Black racism. Thus, Black laughter matters, in the seminar room, in the comedy club, and on the streets.
Bambi Haggins (Ph.D. UCLA, 2000) is Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies in the Department of English at Arizona State University. Her work explores race, class, gender and sexuality in American film and television, with a focus on comedy. Haggins received the Katherine Singer Kovács Book Award for her first book, Laughing Mad: The Black Comic Persona in Post Soul America (Rutgers UP 2007). Her work has been published in scholarly journals such as Cinema Journal, Flow, Velvet Light Trap and Framework, in the popular press including Ms. and The New York Times as well as several edited collections. Haggins was a writer for Showtime's Why We Laugh: Funny Women and historical consultant/onscreen talent for HBO’s Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley (both 2013). Haggins is planning an edited collection, “Television Memoir,” in which scholars discuss the significance of programs, which have personal meaning to them, in the context of US television and popular culture. Her current book project, a spiritual sequel to Laughing Mad, “Black Laughter Matters,” explores Blackness and comedy in the age of Obama. Haggins has been an active member of SCMS since 1996, and has served as a Board Member, as the co-chair of the African/African-American caucus and the Caucus Coordinating Committee, as a member of the Nominating Committee and as a facilitator of media literacy community engagements at the D.C. and Chicago conferences. Haggins is also on the Board for Console-ing Passions International Conference on Television, Video, Audio, New Media, and Feminism.