Racism’s Back Door: A Mixed-Methods Content Analysis of Transformative Sketch Comedy in the US from 1960-2000

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  • Jennifer Kim Siena College




comedy, cultural sociology, popular culture, race and racism, resistance.


Comedy that challenges race ideology is transformative, widely available, and has the potential to affect processes of identity formation and weaken hegemonic continuity and dominance. Outside of the rules and constraints of serious discourse and cultural production, these comedic corrections thrive on discursive and semiotic ambiguity and temporality. Comedic corrections offer alternate interpretations overlooked or silenced by hegemonic structures and operating modes of cultural common sense. The view that their effects are ephemeral and insignificant is an incomplete and misguided evaluation. Since this paper adopts Hegel’s understanding of comedy as the spirit (Geist) made material, its very constitution, and thus its power, resides in exposing the internal thought processes often left unexamined, bringing them into the foreground, dissecting them, and exposing them for ridicule and transformation. In essence, the work of comedy is to consider all points of human processing and related structuration as fair game. The phenomenological nature of comedy calls for a micro-level examination. Select examples from The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1968), The Richard Pryor Show (1977), Saturday Night Live (1990), and Chappelle’s Show (2003) will demonstrate representative ways that comedy attacks and transforms racial hegemony. 


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Author Biography

Jennifer Kim, Siena College

Jennifer Kim has a PhD in Sociology from Temple University and a BA in Sociology & Anthropology with a minor in Black Studies from Swarthmore College. She is currently preoccupied with research on comedy. Her dissertation research examined five decades of transformative sketch comedy in the US from 1960-2000, with an intersectional focus on race and racism. She most recently completed an ethnographic study at The Comedy Store in La Jolla, CA with a focus on the inner-lives of comedians, documenting the process of becoming a comedian. She teaches statistics and qualitative methods at Siena College.


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How to Cite

Kim, J. (2020). Racism’s Back Door: A Mixed-Methods Content Analysis of Transformative Sketch Comedy in the US from 1960-2000. Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Studies, 7(3), 142–162. https://doi.org/10.29333/ejecs/392



Original Manuscript