Was treibt Stand-up Comedians um und wie nutzen Stand-up-Comedians das pädagogische Feld des Komischen als Raum dafür, das Unsagbare über Rassismus und Kolonialismus zu artikulieren?


What haunts comedians? How stand up comedians inhabit the pedagogical space of comedy as a way to speak the unspoken about racism and colonial traces

By Gabriella Maestrini


Gabriella Maestrini (MEd in ALGC) is a third year PhD student in the Department of Educational Studies at UBC.  In her PhD work, she focuses on humour in stand-up comedy as an onto-epistemology where knowing the world through humour emanates from being in the world differently. This presupposes stand-up comedians as tricksters, social commentators, transgressors and storytellers who in this role invite us to consider the world otherwise and who use this way of being to speak the unspoken, specifically the unspeakable of coloniality. Humour used by marginalized comedians can be used to return the gaze, to interrupt, disrupt and to transform.


What haunts comedians? How stand up comedians inhabit the pedagogical space of comedy as a way to speak the unspoken about racism and colonial traces

August 07, 2022

January 2015

The pedagogical space of comedy is one related to the informal, temporary, ephemeral, public encounter where we are being taught by the performance (Biesta, 2011). These pedagogies according to Trinidad-Galvan (2001) ‘highlight the mundane and the everyday as powerful sites for learning” (p. 605). Since comedians specialize in the everyday, mundane experiences of themselves and others, they provide powerful narrative elements connected and related to a colonial past and present that are rendered invisible otherwise.

This pedagogical encounter between the comedian, the skit and the audience then provides the opportunity to understand how comedians, through their arsenal of comedic interventions, speak those unspoken truths that many in the audience live. The comedian, in their role of trickster, fool or clown have a long-standing tradition of being allowed to speak what others cannot or are not allowed to speak. This excursion into the unspoken (Wesley-Esquimeaux, 2011) allows the comedians to explore places where unspeakable things happen, where comedians must speak (Espada, 2014). Speaking the unspoken through humour can be an effective way to address those ‘lived experiences of racism ... and which historical, economic and political configurations lead to them in different countries’ (Essed, 1991, p. 2).

Thus, this particular role of trickster provides racialized comedians with the ability to access those hidden, uncomfortable truths related to racist experiences and colonial traces on racialized bodies.

These personal narratives are informed by real and fictitious stories, an amalgamation of personal and group experience drawing from an onto-epistemological understanding of the world through comedy. Racialization, colonial pasts and global migration in turn inform those acts of stand-up comedians such as Russell Peters and others that closely echo the immigrant experience of the audience only to realize that the new dream is as haunted and riddled with coloniality as the old. In Peters’ case, his South-East Asian past marks him as a hybrid colonial subject whose parents have moved across the Pacific Ocean to another land of colonial past, Canada. This form of double coloniality (Mignolo, 2007) plays out in his performance and in his interaction with the audience when he explains the colonial history of his Anglophone name, as well as how this past is inscribed through this name onto his ‘brown’ body.