Oral self-translation of stand-up comedy: from mental text to performance and interaction
University of Surrey
Supervisor: Dr Dimitris Asimakoulas
The aim is to study the phenomenon of stand-up comedians performing in more than one language, hence translating between them, with a particular focus on English and Italian. This phenomenon represents a still unexplored instance of “cultural negotiation”, an area that has received fresh impetus by the AHRC-funded "Transnationalizing Modern Languages" project (http://www.transnationalmodernlanguages.ac.uk/). The idea originated from my personal experience as a London-based Italian who has been performing comedy for six years, both in English and in Italian; this allowed me direct contact with other bilingual comedians as well as with an audience consisting of both the Italian diaspora and the general British public. Practice in this area strongly suggests that comedic self-translation (the translation of comedy sets by their own authors and performers) constitutes an excellent testbed for exploring issues of identity or tensions between cultural specificity/universality in humour and host/immigrant communities; indeed, important questions in this field can be supported by insights from linguistics, ethnography, translation, performance and humour studies. Due to this “transborder” nature, the study of comedic self-translation will fill some significant gaps in these disciplines; for instance, translation studies have neglected oral performance, anthropological studies of oral traditions have neglected translation, and immigration studies have neglected the role of humour as an identity-building and coping strategy. Filling these gaps will require the definition of a new methodology for the analysis of “oral self-translation”, which in turn requires a notion of “text” compatible with this specific instance of oral communication. This theoretical framework will be verified against the evidence provided by a sample of (around ten) self-translating comedians, via the analysis of their performances and preparatory material and the investigation of their self-analysis via interviews, complemented by my own self-analysis.