Under the intriguing discussion of Audience and the inevitably crucial relationship between the audience and the performers, Katherine Profeta includes the aspect of humor within the book, Dramaturgy in Motion: At Work on Dance and Movement Performance. The major terms utilized by Profeta, which potentially, define what humor is, are “funny” “punchline” and “playful use of language.” These are certainly familiar terms that are often related to what is generally perceived as humor, hence, the use of words in a manner that leaves the audience giggling or chuckling, even after the performance. Although, as mentioned by The Drama Teacher, there are different types of humor or comedy. Such include, slapstick like Mr. Bean, Farce, Satire, Black humor, commedia dell’arte, Burlesque and many more. The list literary dates back to the BCs and ADs. Old comedy, literary. But what is more interesting about this term is its engagement with the audience.
As she narrates the experiences of Okwui Okpokwasili, one of the performers for “Come home Charley Patton” (2004), who in this particular case speaks of when she was first called a “nigger,” Profeta uses the terms ‘part-true and part-invention.’ These terms imply that humor, in this case black humor-the tale revolves around racism but in a comedic manner-is somewhat molded with some truths and some imagined narratives. Imagination is therefore just as key, as it helps in establishing the intention of the performer. Profeta then expounds on how the audience perceived the humor within the tale. She states that, “in the moment after Okwui pronounced the teacher’s words…we heard some gentle, immediate laughter…a mild laughter of recognition from those who had suspected what was coming.” What this denotes is that humor in performance does not necessarily impress everyone in the audience. Different parts of the performance will appeal to different parts of the audience, and in this particular case, only those who foresaw the so called ‘punchline’ managed a laugh. And being black humor, “reactions were dividing based on the race and experiences of the viewers-black audience members more likely to find the teacher’s response familiar; white audience members more likely to be caught off guard.” This is a clear indication of how humor is perceived differently by the inevitably diverse audience. Profeta then dwells into the shaping of the punchline in a manner that, “allowed it to be heard according to those expectations,” meaning that much intention is involved in the humor, hence making sure that the humorous moments are related to and bring forth the meaning of the subject at hand, hence the experiences of a black subject in the United States.
Profeta’s discussion on humor is especially interesting to me because she finally reveals to me how humor is involved in performance, especially with profound intention, which is something I only associated with literature. Humor in performance to me translated to fun and simply engaging the audience but I now know that imagination, intention and some invention goes into in. Although that does not mean that fun is no longer considered.The Drama Teacher Accessed 6 Jan 2018. http://www.thedramateacher.com/types-of-comedy-for-drama-class/.
There is one particular thing in this essay I’d like to address. Yes – amusement comes with a set-up and anticipation of the reveal. So the audience in this case “recognized” where the story was going, and the pleasure of the recognition was expressed in laughter. This is a structural set-up — and the question is — why is it used at this point in the performance? What you begin to grapple with in your final paragraph is why humor is used at all other than to tickle the audience in some manner. In the example you cite however, humor is used to reduce the intensity and the anxiety collectively felt when the subject was race and the effects on certain bodies. You also mention the audience here and how the “joke” lands differently depending on the experiences of those watching. But the other problem is that you don’t want the audience to feel so racially separate that they become hostile to one another. In some ways, this brings out the effects of racism with lower stakes, and lets everyone relax a bit rather than being on guard, so that collectively they can engage with the experiences of race for everyone involved.