New research sheds light on what audiences find funny on-screen

Media Courses

Birmingham City University

Despite having access to more television comedies than ever before, online audiences still crave the format of the ‘traditional’ sitcom, new research by Birmingham City University has found.

In the first major study of screen comedy audiences in almost 20 years – and the first focused on social media – Dr Inger-Lise Kalviknes Bore, Senior Lecturer in the School of Media, scoured thousands of audience responses to comedy on Twitter, Facebook, review sites, blogs and message boards. In doing so, she discovered that viewers still have a recurring desire for ‘old fashioned’ situation comedies that can be enjoyed together as a family, resisting a trend towards ‘highbrow’ narrative comedy, which has a more serial format.

However, Dr Bore’s new book, ‘Screen Comedy and Online Audiences’, also points out that the rise in the online distribution model – including platforms such as YouTube, Netflix and Amazon – ensures that comedy fans have access to new episodes at the same time, facilitating the development of an international community who discuss their preferred shows in various comment threads. 

Dr Inger-Lise Kalviknes Bore, Senior Lecturer in Media and Cultural Theory, Birmingham City University, said:

“Reflecting on hierarchies and boundaries in Western comedy culture, the book examines what happens when comedies seem to challenge this established structure.”

Dr Bore’s monograph considers a broad range of issues relating to TV, film and web comedies, in particular the marginalisation of women. Using the example of Hollywood blockbuster ‘Bridesmaids’, she points out that online responses to the film – while mainly positive – centred around women comedians and female-driven comedies as isolated instances of success, reinforcing the masculine normativity that prevails the genre.

Published by Routledge, ‘Screen Comedy and Online Audiences’ received its official launch at Birmingham City University on Wednesday 31 May ahead of its release on Tuesday 6 June.

The launch will continued the theme of women in comedy (as comedians and audience members) as it was preceded by an academic seminar titled ‘The Politics of Funny Women: Negotiating Femininities and Feminisms through Comedy’, chaired by Dr Sharon Lockyer, founding director of the Centre for Comedy Studies Research (CCSR) at Brunel University.

Centring on U.S. female comedians, Dr Bore herself considered transgressive comedy and discuss representations of Amy Schumer on social media site Pinterest, while Dr Mary Irwin (Northumbria University) challenged the recurring idea that successful female comedians are a new phenomenon by locating Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling and Amy Poehler within a rich history of funny women.

In addition, Dr Sarah Ralph contemplated Tina Fey and the enduring resonance and cultural reception of her film ‘Mean Girls’. The panel was completed by Lynne Parker, who is the founder of Funny Women, who introduced her organisation and the work that they do, before participating in the panel discussion to offer an industry perspective.

The seminar is one of a regular series of events organised by the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research (BCMCR), part of the School of Media at Birmingham City University. The institution was one of the first UK universities to offer media degrees and today boasts cutting edge facilities – including Europe's largest static green screen – in its £62 million Parkside Building.

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