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Colloquium on African Stand-up Comedy Practice

STIAS Workshop

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STIAS is planning to host a colloquium which aims to chart the future course of stand-up research in Africa. The colloquium will be convened by STIAS Iso Lomso fellow, Dr Izuu Nwankwo.

Call for Papers

Popular arts became prevalent at the dawn of 1990s across sub-Saharan Africa partly due to its affordability and comparative ease. The inability of producers of arts to sustain more conventional art forms in music, theatre and film, following economic downturns across the continent, meant that artists resorted to other mediums of expression. Thus, emerged artistic forms like video films, stand-up comedy and the strengthening of more hybrid forms of music.

Increasing demand for laughter, perhaps for reasons of continued economic hardships in several countries, gave rise to the emergence of stage humourists who are now more emboldened and globalized with the use of satellite television, social media and the internet generally. Across the continent, comics have spoken to local and global audiences on numerous themes ranging from the most banal to the sacred. Exploiting the liminal moments of joke performances, these comedians have increasingly broached even taboo subjects, bringing contentious issues to public discourse. It is unfortunate that this development has not yet received adequate scholarly attention especially in terms of book-length manuals for understanding the form and content of the practice in Africa.

Abstracts are invited for book chapters on a proposed book on the practice of stand-up comedy in the different countries and regions of Africa. Themes include, but are not limited, to the following:

  • Performance mechanics of stand-up comedians
  • Themes and contexts of stand-up jokes in specific countries
  • Cross-border performances for individual or select comedians
  • The language of African stand-up comedy
  • African stand-up comedy and the question of canon
  • Women and feminity in stand-up comedy
  • Copyright issues in stand-up comedy
  • Social media, the internet and stand-up comedy in Africa
  • Stand-up comedy distribution in Africa
  • The nature of stand-up comedy fan base
  • Sponsorship and promotions for African stand-up comedy
  • Emerging trends in stand-up practice in Africa
  • Towards a theory of stand-up comedy in Africa
  • Historical Perspectives of stand-up comedy in Africa
  • Indigenous influences on African stand-up comedy
  • Stand-up comedy, censorship and taboo
  • Stand-up comedy and the African diaspora
  • Stand-up comedy and abjection in Africa

STIAS will provide accommodation for approximately 15 participants; applications for travel costs will also be considered. To be part of the colloquium, contributors should send a 300-word abstract and a CV for Dr Nwankwo’s attention to [email protected] before Friday, March 1st, 2019 with the following subject line: Abstract: African Stand-up Comedy Practice.

Abstracts will be reviewed in conjunction with STIAS; selected candidates will be invited to submit a completed working paper before the colloquium. Only candidates who submit completed papers by Thursday, 15 August 2019, will receive an invitation to attend the colloquium.

Following the colloquium and discussion of papers, final papers will be collated into a book on African stand-up comedy to be published with a reputable scholarly publisher.

For any enquiries, please leave a reply in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Project background

STIAS Iso Lomso fellow Dr Izuu Nwankwo is a senior lecturer in the Department of Theatre Arts, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, Anambra State, Nigeria. For his STIAS project Dr Nwankwo is conducting research on “Taboo, (Self-)Censorship and the Limits of Humour in African Stand-up Comedy”. This colloquium will serve to inform the study, while producing an edited book that represents views from Africa’s different regions. The selection of participants will aim to include two or three representatives from each of the Africa’s main regions.

Existing studies of stand-up comedy have seldom discussed how censorship aids the mediation of offence and humour within stand-up comedy, and none seems to have analysed the specificities of this intersection within multi-disciplinary and intercultural contexts. This is where Dr Nwankwo’s work proposes to make a contribution: acknowledging stand-up comedy’s straddling of myriad disciplines and interrogating how intercultural encounters within specific enactments affect the tenor of jokes.

The project adopts a methodological framework based on two sets of critical works. The first group consists of studies at the intersection of humour and inter-cultural studies, which focus on how power relations, race and cultural norms affect the comic form in especially postcolonial contexts (e.g. Reichl and Stein 2005; Holoch 2012). The second group comprises studies from theatre and performance studies in general (e.g. McAuley 1998; Schechner 2004) and on stand-up comedy (e.g. Limon 2000, Ajaye 2002; Tafoya 2009), and should facilitate an analysis of the embodied and verbalized aspects of stand-up jokes with a view to identifying how they are (if at all) moderated by a consciousness of self- censorship.

For more information on Dr Nwankwo’s project see here.

For more information on the Iso Lomso early career fellowship programme at STIAS please visit


Ajaye, Franklyn (2002). Comic Insights: The Art of Stand-up Comedy. Beverly Hills: Silman-James.
Holoch, Adele Marian (2012). “The Serious Work of Humor in Postcolonial Literature.” PhD thesis. University of Iowa.
Limon, John (2000). Stand-up Comedy in Theory, or, Abjection in America. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
McAuley, Gay (1998). “Performance Analysis: Theory and Practice.” About Performance 4: pp. 1-12.
Reichl, Susanne, and Mark Mark Stein, eds (2005). Cheeky Fictions: Laughter and the Postcolonial. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi.
Schechner, Richard (2003). Performance Theory. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge.
Tafoya, Eddie (2009). The Legacy of the Wisecrack: Stand-up Comedy as the Great American Literary Form. Boca Raton, FL: BrownWalker.


Bookings are closed for this event.

Date and time

Wednesday, 9 October 2019 —
Friday, 11 October 2019

All Day​


STIAS Wallenberg Research Centre

10 Marais street

Register to attend

Bookings are closed for this event.

Related to this event


Iso Lomso Fellow


Ancient humour arts exemplify how satire creates a sense of community from shared laughter.  They ridiculed behavioural eccentricities ranging from the humdrum to the hallowed. Offence was not an option then, but in recent times, a growing sense of irritationfor “distasteful” jests has emerged sometimes instigating deadly imbroglios. While stand-up comedy has not stirred up such extremities, some of its jokes have been adjudged politically incorrect. Yet, by its nature, stand-up comedy’s mirth mostly comes from abusing its audience; thrives on spontaneity; and requires new joke materials perpetually. The problem is that stand-up comedy is scarcely studied and the threat posed by the growing irritation with its humour and the manner that comedians are countering them are yet to be examined. My work thus critically evaluates how censorship affects African stand-up, given the myriad cultural sensibilities of its cities and peoples. It is also a contribution to the almost non-existent literature on improvised comedy. Humourists are selected from different regions of the continent and its diaspora; with a view to capturing the different cultural nuances that determine the humour/offence boundaries of their acts. The study deploys multiple analytical tools – performance analysis, close reading, audience/participation observation and comparative inquiry.

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