Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Marc Dolan

Committee Members

Eric Lott

Jonathan W. Gray

Subject Categories

American Popular Culture | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Literature in English, North America | Performance Studies


comedy, play, audience, drag, clowning, performance


Clowning with Identity examines the comedic performance of characters. The enjoyment of a character feels easy to accept uncritically, but these performances work because they deploy stereotypes and the cultural meanings surrounding them, often through acts of appropriation, as the performer makes the choice to embody an identity separate from their own. This project connects theory on drag and gender performance and its ideas about identity-remixing to rhetorical theory on comedy and clowning practices, sketching the ways American practices of drag, clown, and comedic character work are all deeply linked through their historical development. I theorize the productive ways that character performance allows for identity deconstruction, creating a dynamic sense of the tensions between self and other by being at once a stepping out of the self into another identity and also a hyper-performance of the self. At the same time, this dissertation discusses the inherent appropriative qualities in character performance, the ways it necessarily reinscribes the stereotypes it employs, and the limits of characters’ efficacy as rhetorical and political tools. Finally, I look at the way these dynamics play out in real-time, using audience studies methods from theater scholarship, emphasizing the complex ways audiences understand characters’ depictions of types in relation to their own felt and lived associations with identity-communities.

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