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Report: Philosophy & Comedy Workshop at the University of Kent

Philosophy and Comedy

University of Kent, 12-13 July 2022

In July 2022 we held a small, open workshop at the University of Kent involving comedians and philosophers (and some academics from theatre studies) to discuss topics of mutual interest. Topics such as:

  • comedy and free speech
  • comedy and cancel culture
  • punching up and punching down
  • character, persona and performance
  • comedy and diversity
  • comedic timing and the necessity of punchlines

The workshop built on a similar, larger BSA event at Kent in October 2019 and a series of closed online seminars in May 2022 where we got to know comedians new to us and to set the scene for the July gathering.

Instead of formal talks and seminars, the group met in a drama studio and various philosophers introduced ideas into the conversations, pitching for 5-10 minutes each.  Some of the philosophers in attendance included Julian Dodd (Leeds), Lucy O’Brien (UCL), Emily McTernan (UCL) and Rebecca Roache (Royal Holloway).  We had a range of comedians and writers, from household names (Robin Ince and Mark Thomas) to celebrated authors and podcasters (Rosie Wilby), to seasoned and new performers on the comedy circuit.  Some of the comedians who came and with whom we have built a relationship have background knowledge of philosophy. 

As with our previous events, during our sessions together it was difficult to indicate who was an academic and who a practitioner.  From our experience comedians in particular have similar thoughts, interests and ways of thinking to philosophers.  It was also lovely to see comedians and academics mixing freely with each other in breaks and continuing the discussions.

On the back of this event and our virtual discussions in May, and the vibrancy of our discussions, we are now looking forward to hosting a public-facing event on Philosophy and Comedy at Kent in May 2023.  There are also the beginnings of at least two academic-practitioner collaborations.

All who attended are very grateful to the British Society for Aesthetics for supporting this event.  It was nice to have an in-person event which meant that some relationships could be renewed following the Covid-19 pandemic as well as new relationships formed.