Mark Twain Prize Winner Dave Chappelle is Subject of New Episode of The American Vandal

Editor’s Update: A few months after this episode ran, Matt Seybold published an essay in Los Angeles Review of Books which built upon the conversations contained within. Check out “The Political Economy of Dave Chappelle’s Redemption Songs.”

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One of the first presentations at the 2020 Quarry Farm Symposium on “American Humor & Matters of Empire” was “Stand-Up Comedy & Survival” by Bambi Haggins.

Among the stand-up comics who Haggins discusses in her presentation is Dave Chappelle. Particularly, she analyzes the half-hour routine he released on YouTube earlier this year following the police murder of George Floyd: “8:46.”

There was much discussion of “8:46” both in the Q&A after Dr. Haggins presentation and during the days that followed. Chappelle, the 2019 recipient of the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize in American Humor, had clearly captured the attention of the Humor Studies scholars assembled for the Quarry Farm Symposium.

We wanted to revive and extend those discussions, so we invited three of scholars who had presented at the Symposium to join Matt Seybold for an episode of The American Vandal focused on Chappelle’s recent work.

Jalylah Burrell is Assistant Professor of African American Studies at San Jose State University. She is working on a book about Black Women in the American Comic Tradition. A selection from this project, “We Always Somebody Else’: Inherited Roles & Innovative Strategies in Black Women’s Stand-Up Comedy,” was recently publishing in WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly. Her symposium presentation, “Strange & Beautiful Country’: Era Bell Thompson’s Boundary-Crossing Humor,” examines the work of the memoirist and influential Ebony magazine editor.

Bambi Haggins is Associate Professor of Film & Media Studies at University of California, Irvine. Her book, Laughing Mad: The Black Comic Persona in Post-Soul America, won the Society for Cinema & Media Studies Kovacs Book Award in 2008. It features one of the first scholarly treatments of Chappelle’s work. She also wrote the 2013 Showtime documentary Why We Laugh: Funny Women (2013). Most recently, she explores the themes of her Quarry Farm Symposium paper in “A Short Guide to Survival Laughter” from the current issue of ASAP/Journal.

Maggie Hennefeld is McKnight Presidential Fellow & Associate Professor of Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature at University of Minnesota. She is editor of the journal Cultural Critique and the books Unwatchable (2019) and Abjection Incorporated (2020), both of which deal with the media representation of violence. She is also author of Specter of Slapstick & Silent Film Comediennes (2018). Her Quarry Farm presentation, “Tyranny at Home’: Feminist Slapstick Comedy on the Brink of Global Catastrophe,” draws upon the same archive to show the potential for political resistance within a popular medium.