On television comedy as an invented tradition

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Existing analysis of the relationships between comedy and nation commonly work from an assumption that nations have a sense of humour that in some way defines them, while comedy texts — such as those broadcast on television and radio — merely draw on these pre-existing phenomena (Richards, 1997). This article instead demonstrates a more complex relationship between the two, suggesting that broadcast comedy is an ‘invented tradition’ (Hobsbawm and Ranger, 1983), which has been one of the most powerful ways for nations to define themselves — often at the expense of the complexities and contradictions within any one nation-state. Drawing on the idea that nations are ‘imagined communities’ (Anderson, 1983), this article takes the BBC as a case study, exploring the ways in which an understanding of the ‘British sense of humour’ has evolved in response to the needs of the nation. In doing so, it explores historically significant moments such as World War II, as well as a range of regional comedy that doesn't make it into national broadcasting circuits. In addition, the notion of ‘Britishness’ that is sold abroad via such programming is examined. In doing so, this article outlines the ways in which ideas of comedy and the nation intertwine, as well as exploring the problems this relationship might cause for alternative or oppositional ideas of the nation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-73
Number of pages10
JournalMedia International Australia
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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