SUBVERSIVE LAUGHTER: The Liberating Power of Comedy by Ron Jenkins

SUBVERSIVE LAUGHTER: The Liberating Power of Comedy

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An astute, engrossing examination of the dynamic relationship between comedy and social revolution. Jenkins (Performing Arts/Emerson College), who has traveled the globe both as a student and as a professional clown, draws his material from a wealth of personal experiences. From France come the violent antics of the Archaos metal clown troupe; Costumed in suits of corrugated metal, the clowns play out nihilistic battles against evil machines that symbolize the struggle of the individual against an increasingly hostile environment. In stark contrast to the Archaos troupe are Bali's sacred temple clowns, who ""purify"" traditional rituals with the cleansing power of laughter. The Balinese clowns also inject current events into the ancient rituals, thus bridging the gap between modern reality and tradition. Comedy in formerly Communist Lithuania served to deconstruct the official vision of reality imposed by a totalitarian state. Jokes about the incompetence of the KGB and Communist bureaucracy abounded; turning the oppressor into a buffoon helped ease the burden of fear and harsh living conditions. In South Africa under apartheid, jokes about the police and government were intended to ""subvert the tyranny of a system that leaves its people spiritually homeless."" In Italy the performer Dario Fo mocks corruption both in the Catholic hierarchy and in the secular government; his comedies serve to rekindle anger in an industrialized nation grown apathetic under the strain of centuries of corruption and political scandal. Japan's informal taishu engeki theater serves as a forum in which the working class can ridicule the stringent rules of etiquette that bind them to conformity in their everyday lives. Finally, Jenkins analyzes American comedy, noting that truly subversive acts tend to be marginalized and replaced by slick, detached performances that render true rage impossible. The author's intimate connection to his material and his tremendous capacity for description strengthen this provocative and entertaining work.

Pub Date: Oct. 27th, 1994
Page count: 280pp
Publisher: Free Press