It’s like being on a tight-rope : an ethnography of the working lives of professional stand-up comedians in the UK

Hurdsfield, T 2021, It’s like being on a tight-rope : an ethnography of the working lives of professional stand-up comedians in the UK , PhD thesis, University of Salford.

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While previous research has tended to examine the personalities of stand-up comedians, this research contributes to a gap in the literature by ethnographically studying the working lives and lived experiences of professional stand-up comedians on the UK live comedy circuit. Ethnographic fieldwork took place over eight months and was specifically concentrated in the busiest part of the week for performers, principally the weekend. This research deployed participant observation and adopted a ‘go-along’ approach (Kusenbach, 2003) to follow comedians beyond the twenty minutes they spend on stage making an audience laugh. The researcher travelled with comedians to their gigs and gained access to ‘liminal’ spaces such as backstage areas and green rooms, observing backstage happenings, activities and interactions. This research makes two original contributions to knowledge. Firstly, it applies a novel methodological approach to study the working lives of stand-up comedians – an occupational group that has previously received limited attention in sociological work examining professional lives. Analysis of the rich observational data collected enables this thesis to present a dramaturgical account (Goffman, 1959) of comedians’ work and illustrate how being a part of the night-time economy shapes the working life and culture of comedians. Secondly, this thesis expands upon the sociological concept of edgework (Lyng, 1990) and develops the analysis to propose the original theory of Theatrical Edgework, which incorporates an accompanying model for understanding the working lives of stand-up comedians. Theatrical Edgework encompasses the occupational culture, performer-audience relationship and risk-taking to explain the edgework and emotional work that comedians are engaged in before, during and after their on-stage performances.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Contributors: Bagnall, G (Supervisor) and Probyn, JE (Supervisor)
Schools: Schools > School of Health and Society
Depositing User: Thomas Hurdsfield
Date Deposited: 14 Dec 2021 11:38
Last Modified: 15 Feb 2022 14:47

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