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Gender and comedy: stars, performances, characters

Genre et comédie : stars, performances, personnages

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Published on Monday, March 16, 2020 by Anastasia Giardinelli

Summary

This issue will address comedy from a gender and, more broadly, cultural perspective, focusing on the actors and actresses who have starred in comic films and television.

Announcement

Issues coordinators

  • Gwénaëlle Le Gras (Université Bordeaux Montaigne) 
  • Jules Sandeau (Université Paul Valéry-Montpellier)

Presentation

This issue will address comedy from a gender and, more broadly, cultural perspective, focusing on the actors and actresses who have starred in comic films and television.

The immense popularity of some comedy stars is in stark contrast with the relatively few books and articles about them. There are some exceptions, almost always about male comic stars who are also renowned as filmmakers and auteurs (Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Jacques Tati, etc.), yet comic stars consistently attract less interest than their more “serious” counterparts. Comic performances are often left out of or ignored in filmographies of actors who specialize in other genres[1]. This « ugly duckling » status in the realm of academic research on actors and actresses echoes the lack of critical recognition these stars receive. They rarely win awards at film award ceremonies like the Oscars or the Césars. By paying attention to these often ignored performances (partly because comedy is associated with popular and “low” culture[2]), this issue wishes to draw attention to their richness and complexity, as well as the heterogeneity of the actors and actresses who excel in a range that spans both genre and arthouse cinema. In other words, this issue will be about taking comic stars seriously.

Studying these actors and actresses from a gendered perspective will allow us to shed light on the way their performances define and redefine the dominant norms of masculinity and femininity. It will also allow us to clarify the nuances between stereotypes, counter-stereotypes and anti-stereotypes (Macé[3]). Because it often focuses on marginal, eccentric or “loser” characters, comedy seems to be particularly fertile ground for showing deviations from gender norms. However, humour can both contribute to destabilizing these norms or, on the contrary, strengthening them. Within an often ambivalent comical set-up, comedians play a key part in the disruption and/or the consolidation of these norms and the power relations that are inherently linked to them. Articulating gender issues with race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, generational issues etc. reinforces the ideological complexity of comedy performances, the ambivalence of which allows for multiple readings, as is confirmed by reception studies of star performances. Comic performances are often the expression of social and regional types (cf Moine[4], Le Gras[5] or Vincendeau[6]) that strongly associate gender identities with national ones. Equally, comedy was for a long time dominated by actors (for example the male duos so frequent in popular French comedies). This leads us to focus on past female exceptions as well as the more recent emergence of the female comic, which has come about among other things because of a greater number of female directors and stand-up comics[7]. Studies that explore this tradition of female comedy, in the manner of Kathleen Rowe’s[8] work on the “unruly woman” (a figure that is socially, sexually and at times physically transgressive, and which often ties in to the carnivalesque dimension analyzed by Bakhtin[9]), remain rare.

Genre en Series wishes therefore to publish articles about actors and actresses that either star in or simply pass through the comedic range, in a variety of historical periods and national contexts, in order to contribute to the cultural analysis of their image and performance in an issue mixing both star studies and acting studies. We wish to revisit those stars having already been studied extensively in order to explore the gendered dimension of their persona and performances, but also to analyze those who have been marginalized, or even completely ignored. Indeed, most studies have focused on Hollywood comics or marginalized comics from other film industries, for example from France, India, or Hong-Kong. From a methodological stand-point, this issue wishes to encourage articles articulating the analysis of the star’s persona with their expressive work. It also wishes to encourage articles exploring the transmedia, transnational or transgeneric paths of the comic actors and actresses.

Contributions may focus on the following:

  • The gendered aspect of a comedy star’s persona, by placing it in the socio-historic context of its production and reception, by comparing it to that of other stars, by articulating this analysis with other cultural aspects of the star’s image (race, sexuality, class, etc.).
  • The gendered aspect of a comedy actor or actress’ expressive work: stylistic analysis of their performances (gestures, posture, voice, etc.) from a gender view-point, study of the evolution of an actor or actress’s acting style, of their links with different comedy acting methods and traditions, of their singing and dancing performances if the actor/actress specializes in musical comedy, etc.
  • The reception of a comedy actor/actress from a gender (and more widely cultural) perspective.
  • The possible tensions between the narrative and esthetic construction of a character (story, dialogue, directing, costume, etc.) and the meaning produced by the actor’s or actress’s performance (the role of the star’s persona, their acting, etc.).
  • The parodic, ironic or reflexive use of a star’s persona (the series Dix pour Cent, Alain Delon in Asterix at the Olympic games)
  • The transmedia development of a comic actor or actress (cinema, television, theatre, radio, etc.) and its effects on the gendered dimension of their image (Francois Morel, Jamel Debbouze, etc.)
  • The circulation of a star between comedy and other cinematographic genres. What is at stake, in terms of gender, in the comic performances of stars generally associated with different genres (Greta Garbo in Ninotchka and Two-Faced Woman, Arnold Schwarzenegger in Twins, Kindergarten Cop and Junior, part of the casting of Le Grand Bain or Jeanne Moreau in Le Miraculé, Alec Baldwin, cinema star, renewing with success as he gets older in the comedy series 30 Rock, Gwyneth Paltrow in Glee)?
  • The effects of transnational circulation of a comedy star on the gendered aspects of his/her persona and performance (for example Maurice Chevalier moving between Europe and the US, Jackie Chan between Hong-Kong and the US, etc.), or the way the gendered facet of a star’s persona can help or restrict their transnational circulation and/or success in other countries.

Submission Guidelines

Proposals (abstract of 500 words along with a short biography) are to be sent to gwenlegras@wanadoo.fr and sandeau.jules@gmail.com

before May 31, 2020

A response will be given mid-June, and the finished articles are to be submitted by September 15, 2020. They will then be subject to double-blind peer review. The issue will be published in spring 2021.

References

[1] See Ginette Vincendeau, « Brigitte Bardot, ou le « problème » de la comédie au féminin », CiNéMAS, vol. 22, n° 2-3, « Genre/Gender », Spring 2012, p. 13-34.

[2] Pierre Bourdieu, La Distinction. Critique sociale du jugement, Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit, 1979.

[3] Éric Macé, « Des ‘minorités visibles’ aux néostéréotypes », Journal des anthropologues, Hors série, 2007, p. 69-87 ; Éric Macé, “Rions des stéréotypes », Poli, n° 2, 2010, p. 17-25.

[4] Raphaëlle Moine, “Genre, gender et acteurs de seconds rôles : Pauline Carton, Saturnin Fabre et la comédie populaire des années 1930 », Genres et acteurs du cinéma français 1930-1960, Gwénaëlle Le Gras, Delphine Chedaleux (dir.), presses universitaires de Rennes, 2012, p. 157-171 ; Raphaëlle Moine, « Contemporary French Comedy as Social Laboratory », in A Companion to Contemporary French Cinema, supervised by Alistair Fox, Michel Marie, Raphaëlle Moine, Hilary Radner, Malden (Mass.), Wiley-Blackwell, 2015, p. 233-255 ; Raphaëlle Moine, « Stereotypes of Class, Ethnicity and Gender in Contemporary French Popular Comedy: From Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis (2008) and Intouchables (2011) to Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au Bon Dieu? (2014) », Studies in French Cinema, vol. 18, n° 1, janvier 2018, p. 36-51.

[5] Gwénaëlle Le Gras, « Bourvil ou le tempo rubato paysan d’immédiat après-guerre », Théorème, Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, tome « Voyez comme on chante ! Films musicaux et cinéphilies populaires en France (1945-1958) », revue n° 20, 2014, p. 67-74 ; Gwénaëlle Le Gras, « Bourvil ou les enjeux socioculturels du comique paysan de l’immédiat après-guerre », Humoresques, tome « Le Rire du pauvre », n° 40, 2014, p. 87-98.

[6] Ginette Vincendeau, « Fernandel : de l’innocent du village à « Monsieur tout le monde », Genres et acteurs du cinéma français 1930-1960, Gwénaëlle Le Gras, Delphine Chedaleux (dir.), presses universitaires de Rennes, 2012, p. 133-155.

[7] Nelly Quemener,  Le Pouvoir de l’humour. Politiques des représentations dans les médias en France, Paris, Armand Colin, coll. Médiacultures, 2014.

[8] Kathleen Rowe, The Unruly Woman: Gender and the Genres of Laughter, Austin, University of Texas Press, 1995.

[9] Mikhaïl Bakhtine, François Rabelais et la culture populaire au Moyen Âge et sous la Renaissance. Paris, Gallimard, 1970.

Date(s)

  • Sunday, May 31, 2020

Keywords

  • comédie, acteurs, actrices, genre, cinéma, télévision, performance, stars, jeu, persona

Information source

  • Jules Sandeau
    courriel : sandeau [dot] jules [at] gmail [dot] com

To cite this announcement

« Gender and comedy: stars, performances, characters », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, March 16, 2020, https://calenda.org/762389

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