Laughing in the Face of Danger: Performativity and Resistance in Zimbabwean Stand-up Comedy

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This article explores how stand-up comedy acts as a form of resistance in repressive societies, combining discussions of Judith Butler’s concepts of performativity and subversion with empirical material from Zimbabwe, particularly as it pertains to patriotism and gender. Building on extensive fieldwork material from Zimbabwe in 2018 and 2019, it argues that stand-up provides a rare opportunity, despite severe restrictions to freedom of expression, where comedians articulate their opinion in front of a crowd. Performing themselves onstage these comedians reinforce and resist norms; patriotism is situated within, but displaced from, a binary view of Zimbabwean party-politics; and patriarchal gender norms are contravened by empowered female comedians who perform both the “rebellious” artist and caring mother. Interrogating these performances of the self enables us to see limits and possibilities of comedic resistance, and demonstrates how people continue to express themselves in political environments that attempt to silence.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobal Society
Publication statusPublished - 13 Oct 2020