Undergraduate Research & Scholarships

Afton Okwu L&S Arts & Humanities

"The Devil Made Me Do It": Blackness, Queerness, and Comedy

Comedy, particularly live comedy, is one of America’s oldest entertainment forms, with Blackness a primary target. On the minstrel stage, race was put on display, with the comedic register a powerful tool in shaping the zeitgeist’s understanding of Blackness and the American racial hierarchy. Gender politics, too, by way of the mammy caricature, was confronted through minstrel drag. By the latter half of the 20th century and into the modern day, Black comedians like Flipp Wilson, Tyler Perry, Dave Chappelle, and Jerrod Carmicheal have taken the spotlight with the weight of American identity dynamics — and made light of it. By understanding the history of Black masculinity, as well as the intricacies of racial and gender performance, these comedians can be understood as more than entertainment, but representations of identity-based power dynamics in United States culture. This project will look towards the disciplines of Black, gender, and performance studies, along with media theory and ethnography, in order to better conceptualize the work of Black comedians in American identity and cultural formation — who’s laughing, and what’s at stake?

Message To Sponsor

Thank you to the Adam Z. Rice Foundation for funding my research this summer. This has been an idea that has been bouncing around my head for a long time now, and I'm so incredibly excited to finally see it realized. I wouldn't have had this opportunity to do so if it was for your continued support towards the American Studies department and all the students within it. For that, I am eternally grateful!
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Major: American Studies
Mentor: Christine Palmer
Sponsor: Rice
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