Rosenbalm Prize Winners

Awards for the 2020 Jack Rosenbalm Prize.

Committee members: Jim Caron, Maggie Hennefeld, Albert Laguna

We are delighted to recognize three different essays this year, which we feel are each strong on their own terms and collectively represent the scope and versatility of the field of American Humor Studies. The winner, “The Politics of Humor: From Dry to Wet,” by Kyle Stevens identifies a new concept of “wet humor” (in opposition to the familiar category of dry humor) that operates by way of excess and obviousness to affirm belief in an era ridden with gaslighting, fake news, and the crisis of truth. This article is beautifully written, epistemologically timely, and expansive in scope, traversing Arendt’s philosophy of laughter, queer and anti-racist protest memes, and critical theories of comedy, affect, and politics. 

We are also pleased to acknowledge two essays for honorable mention. First, “Open Mic? The Gendered Gatekeeping of Authenticity in Spaces of Live Stand-Up Comedy” by Stephanie Brown. This article takes us to a place where so many comedy careers begin and end— local stand-up comedy scenes. Turning our attention to open mic nights and the discrimination women face as they navigate the gender politics of these spaces allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the barriers to increased comic representation for women on the national stage. The author deftly combines ethnographic study of open mic comic performers in Illinois with a critical framework drawn from feminist, media, and production studies in the service of a compelling scholarly narrative. 

Second is “‘Like a Realtor in Peoria’: Patton Oswalt, Twitter, and Heckling as Social Activism” by Steven Kapica. This article defines Patton Oswalt’s social media-based comedy as a rhetoric of agitation that has the potential for enabling activism and social change. Useful distinctions are made between heckling and trolling as forms of joking, and the author establishes the crucial difference between comedy club interaction of performer/audience and online interaction between celebrities and enclaves of followers. Issues of publics and counter-publics in social media operate as background to Oswalt’s reputation as an avid commentator/satirist and his place in the alt-comedy scene to provide a solid context for the claims and distinctions.

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