Well, we made the leap to launch, and now ML4ML is open for the sharing. Thank you to our workshop attendees at University of Rhode Island's humor communication symposium, Open Mics, Open Minds: An Exploration of Social Issues through Standup, organized by Writing&Rhetoric PhD. pursuant and kickboxing English language educator Jillian Bellanger. Special thanks to Renee Hobbs and the Harrington School of Communication & Media for hosting the event.
The one day symposium brought together an exciting mix of academics, educators, and comedians to talk about theory, practice and effects of humor communication. Identity politics in comedy was a central theme as keynote speaker Jerry Zolten reviewed the history of standup as revolving around ethnic and gender stereotypes from early 20th century acts mocking their own minority identities for White audiences to more modern comics challenging racist and sexist attitudes from multiple perspectives. Many of the workshops discussed the power dynamics between comedians and audiences, as well as teachers and learners, in relation to representations of social issues in humor. I loved hearing the mix of perspectives from practitioners of comedy on the stage alongside teachers using comedy in the classroom and scholars trying to know something about how humor works. And I thought it was a stroke of genius to place everyone in the position of comedy makers in the afternoon writing workshops, which was an eye-opening blast.
The conference convinced me that research agendas should emerge from such conversations between the various stakeholders in comedy discourses. I was left thinking about lingering questions raised at the conference: How do we create a safe and inviting forum for people to discuss their discomfort and offense around issues of race, gender and sexuality? What does a focus on humor about social issues in an educational or academic setting facilitate and inhibit for discussion of identity representations in media and our personal senses of social identity? When and why does humor open minds versus reinforcing firmly held beliefs and attitudes?
We'll see how responses to these questions unfold around for future posts and comments on ML4ML.