Calvert, Dave (2016) Jokes as performance text: a close reading of Rat Pack banter. Comedy Studies, 7 (1). pp. 38-47. ISSN 2040-610X

In September 1963, a live performance by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr was recorded at the Sands Hotel, Las Vegas. This paper offers a close reading of a sequence of jokes from that performance:

Frank: Better keep smiling, Sam, so everybody knows where you are.
Sam: [laughing] You fellers go ahead. You ain’t got many rights left.
Dean: No, but we sure got a couple of lefts.

The uneasy, racial motivation of such humour is complex, fraught and historical. My analysis of the three jokes proposes that the documented material of the event opens up their complexity by contextualising the jokes as performance text, rather than as purely linguistic constructs.

The paper argues that, while the necessary structure of the jokes assumes simplicity in order to realise comic impact, a full understanding of the material involves the unravelling of a network of elements. This includes the aesthetics of the Rat Pack as a performance form in its own right; the artistic and historical context of the event; the public and professional identities of the entertainers involved; the technical ability of the performers as comedians; and the responses of a live audience. The paper also proposes that the jokes do not form individual and closed statements in their own right. Rather, it is the open, fluid relationship between them that motivates comic understanding as meaning is constructed through the production and reception of the jokes as a sequence of competitive and dialogical challenges.

Jokes as Performance Text - A Close Reading of Rat Pack banter.pdf - Accepted Version

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