DRF News

New JLCDS Special Issue on Disability, Comedy and Humour out now!! (eds – Coogan and Mallett)

Volume 7, Number 3 / 2013 of Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies is now available.  (You can keep up to date with the journal by clicking here to sign up to new issue alerts, and can learn more about the title at its website page here.)

This issue is a Special Issue on Disability, Comedy and Humour edited by Tom Coogan (Univ. of Birmingham) and Rebecca Mallett (Sheffield Hallam University). It contains:


  • Introduction ~ Tom Coogan and Rebecca Mallett ~ pp.247-253


  • “People Who Look Like Things”: Representations of Disability in The Simpsons ~ Moritz Fink ~ pp.255-270

The article discusses the television series The Simpsons in the context of disability studies. Referring to David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder’s theory of narrative prosthesis, the argument is that their notion of disability as a metaphorical device falls short of the specific function of disability in satire as both a source of humor and social commentary. As the reading of The Simpsons suggests, the show uses images of the grotesque as a form of
graphic humor; furthermore, these images provide potentials of distanciation and critical thinking concerning the objectification of disability in the dominant discourse and the visualization of it in the media.


  • Cool Aspie Humor: Cognitive Difference and Kenneth Burke’s Comic Corrective in The Big Bang Theory and Community ~ Shannon Walters ~ pp. 271-288

The article explores the complexities of humor in the context of intellectual disability, autism, and Asperger’s Syndrome. Specifically, the rhetorician Kenneth Burke’s theory of perspective by incongruity is applied to humor theory, and there is a focus on his comic corrective as a way of understanding potentially transformative contexts of humor and disability. Two television shows, The Big Bang Theory and Community, are considered, the
argument being that each offers new and unexpected ways of understanding and blurring categories such as “autistic” and “neurotypical,” as well as “nondisabled” and “disabled.”


  • Handi-/Cappin’ Slaves and Laughter by the Dozens: Divine Dismemberment and Disability Humor in the US ~ Darryl A. Smith ~ pp.289-304

The article claims that insofar as “the dozens” or “capping” – black combative humor – arose out of slavery and its prohibition against fighting (which threatened “property damage”), it is fundamentally a humor of disability. Because of this more or less unique form of comedic creation and conditioning, not all contemporary American humor that deploys disability demeans it. Rather, some such humor deploys disability in remedial, considerably redemptive ways, demonstrable through black folklore and literary texts. Such texts illuminate the peculiar form of American comedy as a practice in tragic “extravagance,” one substantially born of its own extravagant source in racial bondage.


  • “Why so serious?”: Cripping Camp Performance in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight ~ Cynthia Barounis ~ pp. 305-320

Using as a case study Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster film The Dark Knight, and building from recent work on disability and humor, the article explores the disabled body as a potential site of camp performance and outrageous parody. The Joker’s sartorial flair and his commitment to style over substance, it is argued, construct him as a variation of the Wildean homosexual dandy whose superficiality is politicized as a form of queer resistance to both capitalism and the institutionalized hierarchies of the state. Furthermore, the crip dimensions of the Joker’s drag performances – and in particular, the narrative agency with which he continually destabilizes the origins of his facial scar – extends that camp sensibility beyond sexuality to explore disability as performative process rather than a pathological state. Developing a concept of disability camp not only helps us to shake up the representational terrain of both queer studies and disability studies, but also provides new and exciting opportunities for theorizing the intersections of disability, humor, and performance.


  • Invalid Animals: Finding the Non-Human Funny in Special Needs Pets ~ Brett Mills ~ pp. 321-335

The promotional material for the UK Channel 4 documentary Special Needs Pets asks, “how far are pet owners prepared to go when their pets develop special needs?” The programme recounts the stories of a number of what the voice-over refers to as “invalid animals,” and asks, “Do we love our pets too much?” In its use of music and voice-over, the programme can be seen to encourage a confusingly comic response from its audience, who are invited to find funny both the behaviour of the animals featured and that of their owners. While not simplistically equating human and non-human notions of disability, the article suggests that exploring the comic aspect of the programme gives insights into human understandings of this category. It argues that while some aspects of the programme might be seen as encouraging audiences to find disability funny, the humour more often works to confuse readings of the programme’s content, and therefore, perhaps, opens up a space for a range of contradictory understandings of disability.


  • Comment from the Field: Perspectives on Comedy and Performance as Radical Disability Activism ~ Alan Shain ~ pp. 337-346