Symposium: Communities of Laughter (London)

(part of a series)

Location: Notre Dame London Global Gateway (UK)

The National Cultures of English-Language Comedy symposium will begin at 18:00 on 16 November with a keynote address by Brett Mills, Senior Lecturer at the University of East Anglia.

Symposium Website


To register for the keynote at the Notre Dame London Global Gateway, please visit our Eventbrite page.

“Communities of Laughter: Comedy and the Making of the Nation”

We live, we are told, in a transnational, globalised, ever-shrinking world. The international flows of media, they say, render boundaries permeable, and people see themselves as citizens of the world. But some things remain stubbornly national, and two of these are the focus of this conference. While the technology of television enables broadcasting to travel beyond borders, the regulations that constitute contemporary broadcasting persist in maintaining national borders. And comedy, too, persists in being wedded to ideas of the nation, as both evidence of, and a contributor to, how nations make sense of themselves and others. Benedict Anderson famously interprets nations as “imagined communities” whose origin and persistence lies in their “cultural roots” that powerfully tie people together (1983: 7). In his analysis of culture Anderson, of course, omits comedy; this is to be expected given that comedy is routinely written out of cultural analysis and still fights to achieve the analytical legitimacy it deserves. But what happens if the idea of the nation is examined in terms of comedy and humour? To what extent does comedy play a vital role in the ‘imaginings’ Anderson proposes? This paper will explore what happens if a vital contributor to ‘imagined communities’ is seen to be ‘communities of laughter’; that is, that one of the ways nations define themselves is by their sense of humour (and, by extension, by that sense of humour’s differences to those of other nations). It will do so through analysis of television comedy which too fulfils a role in enabling nations to imagine themselves. Is there something particular about comedy that enables it to function in these ways, and what are the consequences of these ‘communities of laughter’?

Brett Mills is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Art, Media and American Studies at the University of East Anglia. He received his Ph.D. from Canterbury Christ Church College with a focus on television sitcom. He has published widely on comedy and popular television, including three books: Television Sitcom (British Film Institute, 2005), The Sitcom (Edinburgh University Press, 2009), and Creativity in the British Television Comedy Industry (Routledge, 2016). He has also published journal articles in a wide variety of publications, including ScreenTelevision and New MediaJournal of Popular TelevisionJournal of British Cinema and TelevisionEuropean Journal of Cultural StudiesJournal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies, and Celebrity Studies, and he has edited and co-edited special editions of ParticipationsComedy Studies, and Critical Studies in Television. His interest in teaching and pedagogy has also resulted in co-authoring the text book Reading Media Theory: Thinkers, Approaches, Contexts (Pearson, 2009/12), now in its second edition.


The co-organizers of the symposium are Dr. Christine Becker and Dr. Jorie Lagerwey.

Christine Becker is an Associate Professor in the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre at the University of Notre Dame specializing in film and television history and critical analysis. Her book It’s the Pictures That Got Small: Hollywood Film Stars on 1950s Television (Wesleyan University Press, 2009) won the 2011 IAMHIST Michael Nelson Prize for a Work in Media and History. She is currently working on a research project exploring issues of cultural taste in contemporary American and British television. She is also the Associate Online Editor for Cinema Journal and runs the News For TV Majors blog.

Jorie Lagerwey is a Lecturer in Television Studies in the School of English, Drama, and Film at University College Dublin. She is the author of  Postfeminist Celebrity and Motherhood: Brand Mom, which analyzes contemporary representations of motherhood in celebrity brands and reality television. Her work has appeared in Cinema Journal, Television and New MediaStudies in Popular Culture, and elsewhere. Dr. Lagerwey’s primary research interests are in the representations of gender, race, and religion on television and other digital media; discourses of quality on TV and online; and celebrity culture. 


The symposium is made possible by generous funding and sponsorship from the University of Notre Dame’s Nanovic Institute for European Studiesthe Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal ArtsCollege of Arts and Letters; and the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre.