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This book examines the interconnections between punk and alternative comedy (altcom). It explores how punk’s tendency towards humour and parody influenced the trajectory taken by altcom in the UK, and the punk strategies introduced when altcom sought self-definition against dominant established trends. The Punk Turn in Comedy considers the early promise of punk-comedy convergence in Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s ‘Derek and Clive’, and discusses punk and altcom’s attitudes towards dominant traditions. The chapters demonstrate how punk and altcom sought a direct approach for critique, one that rejected innuendo, while embracing the ‘amateur’ in style and experimenting with audience-performer interaction. Giappone argues that altcom tended to be more consistently politicised than punk, with a renewed emphasis on responsibility. The book is a timely exploration of the ‘punk turn’ in comedy history, and will speak to scholars of both comedy and punk studies.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. Introduction

Abstract
The Introduction offers a brief overview of altcom, punk, and some of the intersections between them. It also outlines the chapter trajectory, and sets up a theoretical framework, with a commentary on its applicability. Postmodernism offers a route through perceptions of the ‘postmodern’ condition at that juncture (late 1970s–early 1980s, on the brink of intensification into blatant neoliberalism, with Thatcher’s rise to government as one turning point). Derridean deconstruction is also suggested as presenting certain similarities with the punk approach, as well as being a way to explore the heterogeneity within an apparently coherent structure—this has implications for the possibilities and the politics of resistance.
Krista Bonello Rutter Giappone

Chapter 2. Peter Cook: Missing Links

Abstract
‘Peter Cook: Missing Links’ posits a shared influence on punk and altcom in Peter Cook. While ostensibly detached from either scene, with more missed encounters than direct associations (for example, he was considered as a scriptwriter for the Pistols film project, but this collaboration never materialised), there were yet a couple of key moments that highlighted proximity, in particular the ‘Derek and Clive’ recordings with Dudley Moore, and Cook’s appearance as the host on music show Revolver—the latter, however, emphasising disengagement from both audience and bands. The chapter also traces a line of development of ‘alternative’ performance spaces from satirical cabaret in the 1960s (particularly the Establishment Club, co-founded by Cook), through 1970s ‘alternative theatre’, towards a space for ‘alternative’ critical comedy.
Krista Bonello Rutter Giappone

Chapter 3. The ‘Alternative’

Abstract
This chapter explores punk and altcom through their relations to categories they ostensibly offered an ‘alternative’ to. This space was often not quite one of definite opposition through separation, but was open to negotiations, conflicts and encounters, and counterpositions in its turn, and was not free of ‘anxiety of influence’. The paradoxical process of emergent definition is discussed in relation to generational and class-based associations, as well as to the ‘arty’ on one hand, and the popular on the other (for example: the uneasy relationship with television). Altcom’s challenge to the Oxbridge ‘monopoly’, whilst rejecting Northern club comedy’s sexist and racist conventions, is brought into focus.
Krista Bonello Rutter Giappone

Chapter 4. Attitudes Towards the Past

Abstract
This chapter focuses on attitudes and approaches to the past, particularly the interplay between parody and lingering nostalgia (despite the latter seeming to be one avenue unsanctioned by punk), and the opening of a particular critical-parodic stance towards the present, as well as past. Parody is considered as a humorous means of enabling deconstruction, and of engagement with/disengagement from both past and contemporary contexts in punk and altcom, offering, moreover, a possible [dis]connection with a ‘future’, extending/issuing an invitation and a challenge. The discussion takes The Kinks—a rare acknowledged influence in both punk and altcom—as its starting point, and moves towards a discussion of punk’s self-mythologising impulse, selection of influences, and construction of an ‘alternative’ lineage, which includes a debt to comedy.
Krista Bonello Rutter Giappone

Chapter 5. Styling the Amateur

Abstract
This chapter focuses on the value placed on the ‘amateur’s’ lack of skill in both altcom and punk—rather, an inversion of traditional values (sometimes having parodic effect), whereby being able to play gives way to ‘playfulness’, and thence to room for experimentation. This is discussed as a deliberate strategy for bypassing established procedure and enabling the emergence of raw and unshackled ‘noise’, and the voices of a youthful generation. The paradox encountered here is that this ‘raw’, rough-edged, unpolished quality was itself to some degree constructed and even valorised, as the target style. ‘Newness’ here goes hand in hand with the implied atavism of stripping rock back to its basic building blocks—harking back to the ‘youth’, even mythicised ‘origins’, of rock itself.
Krista Bonello Rutter Giappone

Chapter 6. The Role of the Audience

Abstract
This chapter explores the shift in the relationship between audience and performer, tackling the responses available to audiences, both those attuned to punk conventions and the unconverted/uninitiated. The punk audience appeared to be a ‘new’ kind of audience—seemingly authorised to participate and even be unruly. This translated into an increase in heckling with altcom, and the use of the Comedy Store gong—a novel means of interaction available to the audience, with the capacity to empower them to sway the course of a performance. Rather than equality pertaining, however, the dynamic more often tended towards a play for dominance (for example in the relocation of indifference), with performers sometimes struggling to maintain control.
Krista Bonello Rutter Giappone

Chapter 7. Modes of Dis-/Engagement

Abstract
This chapter considers ‘Modes of Dis-/Engagement’: strategies used by performers to reassert some degree of distance, even in intimate performance spaces which seemed conducive to a sense of immediacy. Hostility, alienation, and aggression, as well as abjection and the courting of disgust, were features of both punk and altcom. The meta-comic could play a part in generating critical distance. Thematised detachment and distrust of sentiment also suggested a recognition of, and attempt to work through, the postmodern condition, exploring the elusiveness of feeling (in both senses), and touch where substance seems to recede (including punk’s dis-articulation of structure; Buzzcocks’ ‘Why Can’t I Touch It?’; and Ben Elton’s paradoxical over-articulation in routines about the dislocation of touch).
Krista Bonello Rutter Giappone

Chapter 8. Power Play

Abstract
The impossibility of fully occupying both subject and object positions within one’s own gaze both produces and limits subjectivity. Yet, in some of Lydon’s performances, there is the suggestion of reclaiming ground, owning one’s own public image—a necessarily incomplete attempt to watch oneself. The resulting interplay of gazes has implications for power—putting it in oscillation, sometimes culminating in struggles over physical space and electrical power (the microphone), with performers struggling to retain enough authority to carry on performing, where the trust in traditional assumptions structuring the performer–audience relationship had been deliberately compromised. This retaking of control entailed dominance, sometimes intimidation. Unlike a typical ‘authoritarian’ paradigm however (as a reference point for contrast/comparison), reassertions of power often took place along lines that acknowledged contestation.
Krista Bonello Rutter Giappone

Chapter 9. ‘Style Without Affectation’: Honesty and Performance

Abstract
This chapter draws out a recurring theme in both punk and altcom: the declared aim of ‘honesty’ and the drive towards authenticity, discussed in terms of the paradox of ‘style without affectation’ (Lydon in Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs: The Authorised Autobiography, Plexus, London, p. 84, 1994). Any discussion of ‘honesty’ in punk must take into account its fiction-spinning, intertwining with performance and the performative. Contexts, likewise, tend to be highlighted as productive and changeable constructs (having real effect). The discussion considers declared debts to overtly fictional characters, and fictionalised historical figures like Shakespeare’s Richard III, who is peculiarly apt as a selected influence: blatantly unsubtle and excessively visible, he occupies both ‘villain’ and ‘underdog’ positions, and irreverently parodies the political structures he manipulates. Honesty, in punk and altcom, does not preclude artifice/fiction.
Krista Bonello Rutter Giappone

Chapter 10. Boundaries of the (Un)Said

Abstract
This chapter focuses on shifts away from ‘covert’ means of implying underlying shared meaning (such as irony and innuendo), to the troubling of those assumptions of trust and immediate understanding. Increased obscenity indicated a more ‘direct’ approach. ‘New’ areas rendered available for comic treatment by punk are discerned, with a shift into over—rather than understatement, an outspokenness reflected in changes taking place in gay comedy. Although, like punk, altcom had its own blind spots and zones of inarticulacy, altcom evinced greater wariness of ambiguity. Its non-sexist non-racist stand became more consistent, and its politicisation more responsible and overt in mounting a targeted refusal of Thatcherism—departing from the McLaren ‘be irresponsible’ punk model (not apolitical, but lacking clarity in terms of political engagement).
Krista Bonello Rutter Giappone

Chapter 11. Conclusion

Abstract
The first part of the concluding chapter draws out the interplay between ‘authorship’, ‘authority’, ‘authenticity’, and ‘responsibility’—recurring key concerns. Punk had already laid bare the question of authorship (also of crucial importance in altcom) as a space of both contestation and assertion. Convergences and divergences between punk and altcom are then revisited and highlighted. The chapter concludes with a reflection on the act of retrospection itself, and its paradoxical status in punk, which has an uncanny propensity to stare down the nostalgic backward glance. Yet this study, for all its retrospection, attempts to partially respond to a demand for serious attention that punk and altcom insisted on, in their potent mix of anger and humour.
Krista Bonello Rutter Giappone

Backmatter

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