Document Type

Senior Thesis

Publication Date

Spring 2019


In this thesis, I will be doing a discourse analysis of two stand-up comedians over the course of their careers as comedians, these two being men who have been confirmed to have, or convicted for, committing acts of violence and sexual assault against multiple women. I ask: What can we learn about the relationship between violent acts and language through an examination of the speech of these two men? I chose stand-up comedy as my ‘field’ for researching violence because it is a unique platform that often reflects social norms and ideals, acting as a sort of mirror, and acts as a real time study which is beneficial to sociolinguistic and linguistic anthropology research. Using the cases of comedians Louis C.K. and Bill Cosby, one admitting to acts of sexual violence, the other imprisoned for sexual violence, I will argue that it is not always possible for the absence or presence of violent language to indicate whether an individual is violent or not. Rather, I will find that with C.K. and Cosby, while the latter being the more subdued and the former being the more vulgar, the language used by both comedians is still reflect of Western social ideals such as sexism. The comedian Hannah Gadsby in her award-winning comedy special Nanette articulates that “a joke is simply two things, it needs two things to work; a set-up and a punch line. And it is essentially a question with a surprise answer” (Gadsby 2018). Throughout this thesis, I will also attempt to show how, with the present political climate along with movements such as #MeToo, there is a prudent shift occurring in stand-up comedy away from the traditional and toward comedic story telling. I argue, however, that this reformation cannot occur without the analysis of the old ways of comedy.

Included in

Anthropology Commons