Session VI – Panel B

SESSION VI, March 2, 2:00-3:30PM

Panel B: Don’t worry, there is more laughter in production
Moderator: Kevin Godbout
Room: University College 225A

Anna Candido (McGill University) – Comedic Honesty in the New Media Environment: An Analysis of Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast

In September of 2009, a broke and newly out of work radio host and stand-up comedian, Marc Maron, began a free to download, bi-weekly podcast called WTF with Marc Maron. By 2010, this mixed-genre show, which features interviews with comedians and Maron’s own stream-of-consciousness monologues, was described by Ira Glass of NPR’s This American Life as “the definitive comedy podcast of record”. By June 2011, the Chicago Tribune characterized the show as “starkly honest and surpassingly human,” and in 2012, the show won the Comedy Central award for Best Comedy Podcast. The success of this podcast begs the questions: what is it about Maron’s show that warrants such critical acclaim? And how can we understand a comedy podcast as something that can be “starkly honest and surpassingly human”?

Using a Communication Studies approach to the analysis of Maron’s podcast, this paper explores the ways in which the flexibility of the new media environment allows for idiosyncratic, “starkly honest” expressions and innovation by stand-up comedians. By delineating constraints to comedic speech imposed by the FCC and television networks from the 1970s through to the 1990s, I will show how the media form of television affected the character of stand-up comedy in the United States. Then, by explicating the legal and techno-economic apparatus within which podcasts are currently produced, I will show how the flexibility of the new media environment gives Maron a greater freedom to experiment with form and content than was previously possible. By developing a model for thinking about the relationship of media forms to comedic culture, we can better understand the grounds by which contemporary humor in America is produced.

Anna Candido is a PhD3 student in Communication Studies at McGill University in Montreal. She has recently begun her dissertation work on the circulation of stand-up comedy in the United States from the 1960s onward, and the attendant changes in the socio-political qualities of comedic speech over time. 

Devin Wilson (University at Buffalo) – Duchamping in Game Making”: An Analysis of Pippin Barr’s Parodic Computer Games

Recently, many have lamented the lack of diversity in computer games, and it’s easy to see the basis for such a criticism. Computer games have long been characterized as hypermasculine power fantasies, and this is not an entirely inaccurate indictment. However, game designer and researcher Pippin Barr has made a number of games that stand in strong contrast to mainstream gaming fare. Not unlike Marcel Duchamp’s contribution to modern art, Pippin Barr creates computer games that address the very category of “game”. Using humor as a tool for critique of the medium, Barr’s radical games subvert seemingly inviolable traditions in game design. This tactic often serves as comic relief, but it also allows for a broader ontology of games to emerge. What we see in his work is a rejection of the typical ideas of “fun”, similar to how the Dadaists rejected “beauty” in the early 20th century. Barr’s games are highly referential, and it is this intertextuality that gives Barr license to engage in what Douglas Wilson and Miguel Sicart call “abusive game design”. Douglas Wilson, who has developed the idea further, argues that humor (in addition to context and surprise) allows for a fruitful dialogue to emerge between the player and the designer, rather than the more impersonal relationship between the player and the game that can be found in non-dialogic computer games. This paper analyzes a number of Barr’s games, exploring how they engage with game design conventions and players’ expectations. This paper also examines how Barr’s games refer to other artworks, from Marina Abramovic’s performance art to Greek myth and contemporary computer games. Ultimately, we will see that Barr’s parodic and otherwise referential games are liberating despite their frustrating appearances, and that this encourages more diverse entries in the increasingly relevant artistic medium of computer games.

Devin Wilson is an MFA candidate in the University at Buffalo’s Department of Media Study. His creative practice is focused on experimental game design and the attempt to incorporate Buddhist philosophy into games, also drawing upon sources such as Fluxus and John Cage.

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