'Like tiddlywinks for grown-ups": communicative artistry in a 'Westie' comedy performance

Mike Lloyd

Abstract


Comedians develop and hone a persona that reflects their particular type of humour, thus greatly aiding in the economy that so typifies comedy performances. This paper considers the case of the well-known New Zealand comedian Ewen Gilmour, whose persona is a ‘Westie’ - someone from the working class area of West Auckland. This persona has equivalents in most countries, its central characteristics being hard-drinking, ready-swearing, stereotypical working class behaviour, that also strongly adheres to traditional gender roles. The paper focuses on one of Gilmour’s short standup comedy performances filmed in front of a live audience and then screened on public television. The performance features a potential disjuncture: the Westie comedian narrates activities that he and a ‘mate’ engage in that could be interpreted as ‘homoerotic’. Nevertheless, the performance ends with the Westie persona under no apparent threat of misinterpretation, that is, his character is obviously not gay. This ‘agreement’ stems in part from dynamic cooperation between the comedian and audience, which similar to many social activities, is more tacit than explicit, and yet this cooperation and understanding has to be somehow achieved. Looking in detail at exactly how the comedian ‘works’ the audience with his comedic material, and his embodied display, leads to the conclusion that the performance qualifies as ‘communicative artistry’ even if the joke material is relatively well worn.

Keywords


comedy; persona; performance; body

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.11157/sites-vol8iss2id182