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Stand-up comedy and the comedic cult of the individual: or, the humor of James Acaster

Smith, Daniel ORCID: 2021. Stand-up comedy and the comedic cult of the individual: or, the humor of James Acaster. American Journal of Cultural Sociology 9 , pp. 70-91. 10.1057/s41290-019-00082-x

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Stand-up comedy prioritises the individual performer. Yet its success relies upon awakening collective sentiments through laughter. For this article, the aesthetic form of stand-up becomes a site to explore the legacy of Durkheim’s ‘cult of the individual’. Durkheim recognised the significance of the ‘cult of the individual’ in modernity but was unable to locate its place within collective sentiments. The article advances the claim that sociology can locate individuality’s cult within the aesthetic affordances individuals have at their disposal in institutional settings. It is demonstrated that stand-up comedy becomes a way to achieve individuality in a society of advanced role differentiation, a plurality of lifeworld’s and beliefs and its associated tensions. Humor does not reconcile tensions; through humor these social conditions become ‘known’ to the modern subject at an intra-personal level. The article substantiates and illustrates these claims through a case-study of British comedian James Acaster. Methodologically the article makes use of literary and aesthetic theories to advance an alternative theory of modernity, one which highlights how stand-up comedy is valued for its ability to register—at a sensuous level—the meaningful organisation of social relations modern social actors live within.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
ISSN: 2049-7121
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 22 July 2019
Date of Acceptance: 21 July 2019
Last Modified: 26 Oct 2022 08:05

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