Serious Laughter: African American and African Humor (Part 1) (Panel)

American/Diaspora / Global Anglophone

Jasleen Singh (University of Toronto)

Sylvanna Baugh (University of Toronto)

This panel invites researchers to consider how African American and African writers deploy humor to celebrate Black life, survival, and resistance in the face of anti-Black racism and racial violence. By facilitating conversations between works of African American and African diasporic comedy, we aim to foreground instances of humor that emerge from within Black literary and oral traditions. This panel thus endeavors to honor African American and African humor as a vital form of Black knowledge and resilience. To appreciate the variety within African American and African humor, we welcome papers on any facet of humor, including satire, irony, absurdity, parody, as well as the figure of the trickster or picaro. Papers examining literature, film, TV, stand-up comedy, music, and visual art are equally welcome.

Papers may also investigate how Black humorists generate laughter from unlikely and uncomfortable moments. How do Black authors use humor to address a wide readership with varying degrees of confrontation and directness? What can we learn from comedic Black texts in which social critique seems deferred or almost incidental? How do Black humorists theorize on race, racism, and language through the time-saving mechanism of humor? Alternatively, you may wish to consider how humour functions as what Henry Louis Gates, Jr. refers to as literary or verbal “Signifyin(g).”

In Playing in the Dark (1992), Toni Morrison writes, “The kind of work I have always wanted to do requires me to learn how to maneuver ways to free up the language from its sometimes sinister, frequently lazy, almost always predictable employment of racially informed and determined chains.” Taking cue from Morrison and Gates, we invite you to explore how humor and race are bound up together through language play, and how humor can highlight the surreptitious ways in which language and race always already functions.

Taking cues from Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s theorization of “Signifyin(g),” this panel considers the double political and aesthetic functions of humor in African American and African writing, its integral role in the literary and oral traditions of the African diaspora. How do Black authors and artists deploy humor for social critique, resistance, and survival?