HNU hosted the 27th International Humor Conference of the International Society for Humor Studies (ISHS) in the Valley Center for Performing Arts (VCPA) on campus from June 29 through July 3. The conference was organized by a committee of ISHS members, which was led by Martin Lampert, PhD, professor of psychology at HNU. Lampert also serves as executive secretary for the ISHS. This was the second time HNU has hosted the conference—the 1999 edition was held on the University’s campus and was organized by Lampert.
The International Humor Conferences have served, since 1976, to advance humor scholarship and research in the arts and humanities as well as in the biological, medical, and social sciences. In 1988, the ISHS was formed to promote humor research, and in 1989, under the auspices of the ISHS, the conferences became annual events.
This year, the conference featured more than 150 presentations, workshops, and performances from scholars and professionals representing 26 countries and 31 states within the U.S. in five thematic areas: cognition and creativity; culture, gender, and community; health and well-being; individuals and individual styles; and public and private discourse. In addition, the conference included an improv competition, a stand-up comedy competition, and the play Lend Me a Tenor.
The first general session of the conference, which focused on judiciary humor, was chaired by Associate Justice Carol A. Corrigan ’70 of the California State Supreme Court and featured Christie Davies, PhD, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Reading, England, Marc Galanter, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin Law School, and Pamela Hobbs, PhD, attorney. The four panel members discussed humor about judges and by judges, the distinctions between jokes about attorneys and those about judges, and how judiciary humor in the U.K. differs from that in the U.S.
One of the first evening events of the conference was a roundtable discussion of humor in animation art, which featured Craig Good, a former employee of Pixar Animation Studios, Austin Madison, Jeff Pidgeon, and Christian Roman, current employees of Pixar Animation Studios, and Andrew Farago, curator of the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco. The panel members spoke in depth about the role that constraints play in humor writing, the evolution of certain types of jokes and how clichés can be refreshed in new contexts, and how important it is for any humorous narrative to contain substantive emotional elements in addition to gags, jokes, and set pieces.
One of the most fascinating general sessions was held on the third day of the conference. The session, led by Sharon Lockyer, PhD, a senior lecturer in sociology and communications at Brunel University, England, focused on cross-cultural perspectives of women in stand-up comedy. Lockyer presented first and spoke about how the British stand-up comedy scene has, in recent years, become less dominated by male performers, though she emphasized that there is still work to be done to create more opportunities for female stand-up comedians. Kimi Oshima, PhD, professor at Kanagawa University, Japan, discussed the status of female rakugo performers in Japan. Rakugo is a tradition of comic storytelling in which the performer sits on the stage and acts out a humorous narrative. Oshima explained that the process of becoming a rakugo performer is demanding and time-consuming for both men and women, though there are certain aspects of rakugo training that are particularly arduous for women (including the fact that there is a limited number of female rakugo masters who can train newcomers). The final speaker in the session was Regina Barreca, PhD, professor of English at the University of Connecticut, who delivered a funny and entertaining talk about the politics of female stand-up comedians. Barreca discussed how important it can be for women in comedy to speak out about social and political issues.
Featured plenary presentations at the 2015 ISHS Conference included:
Funny Judges: Judges as Humorous, Judges as Humorists, Marc Galanter, University of Wisconsin Law School
Humorous Anecdotes about Judges in the United Kingdom, Christie Davies, University of Reading
Supreme Wit: The Use of Humor by the United States Supreme Court, Pamela Hobbs, Attorney at Law, Los Angeles
Humor and Health: Has Research Supported the Popular Movement? Paul McGhee, The Laughter Remedy
Humor and Subjective Well-Being, Willibald Ruch, University of Zurich
The Evolution of Humor over the Lifespan, George Vaillant, Harvard University Medical School
Women Matter in British Stand-Up Comedy, Sharon Lockyer, Brunel University
Japanese Traditional Sit-Down Comedy, Kimie Oshima, Kanagawa University
The Best Stand-Ups Stand Up for Something: The Politics of Troublemaking Funny Women, Regina Barreca, University of Connecticut
Mark Twain in the West: An Exhibition, Victor Fischer, University of California, Berkeley
Editing Mark Twain in the West, Benjamin Griffin, University of California, Berkeley
Scotty Briggs vs. the Minister: Persona, Humor, and Metaphorical Conflict in Roughing It, John Bird, Winthrop University
No One Will Ever Wonder Why, They Said: Conceptual Blending and Humorous Memes Cross the Road, They Said, Seana Coulson, University of California, San Diego
The Breakfast of Duchampions: Irony and Rule-Breaking in Rule-Based Generative Systems, Tony Veale, University College Dublin