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CYNTHIA WILLETT is Samuel Candler Dobbs professor of philosophy at Emory University with affiliated positions in women’s, gender, sexuality studies; religion; the psychoanalytic studies program; and African American studies. Her authored books include Interspecies Ethics, Irony in the Age of Empire: Comic Perspectives on Democracy and Freedom, The Soul of Justice: Social Bonds and Racial Hubris, and Maternal Ethics and Other Slave Moralities. She edited Theorizing Multiculturalism.

JULIE WILLETT is associate professor of history at Texas Tech University, with an affiliated position in women’s and gender studies. She is author of Permanent Waves: The Making of the American Beauty Shop and editor of The American Beauty Industry Encyclopedia.

We thank our editors at University of Minnesota Press, Danielle Kasprzak, Mike Stoffel, Ana Bichanich, and Anne Carter for their expert and enthusiastic guidance.

We are grateful to Emory University’s Sarah E. McKee for her guidance with the online-access edition and to Rebekah Spera for her excellent assistance with the index.

Finally, we thank our families for the laughter and love that helped so much along the way: Chloe Willett, Liza Willett, Grant Beecher, Dylan McBee, Joe Boettcher, Vickie Fridge, Gabriella Villalobos, Leslie Chiang, Matt Aharonov, our parents Joe and Ellen Willett, and especially Stefan Boettcher and Randy McBee.

This book is freely available in an open access edition thanks to TOME (Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem)—a collaboration of the Association of American Universities, the Association of University Presses, and the Association of Research Libraries—and the generous support of Emory University and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

TOME aims to expand the reach of long-form humanities and social science scholarship including digital scholarship.

Additionally, the program looks to ensure the sustainability of university press monograph publishing by supporting the highest quality scholarship and promoting a new ecology of scholarly publishing in which authors’ institutions bear the publication costs.


Research Funding:

TOME; Emory University; Andrew W. Mellon Foundation


  • Philosophy
  • social aspects
  • wit
  • humor
  • fumerism
  • Islamophobia
  • nationalism
  • alpha male
  • catharsis
  • shame
  • empathy

Uproarious: How Feminists and Other Subversive Comics Speak Truth



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Book | Final Publisher PDF


A radical new approach to humor, where traditional targets become its agents. Humor is often dismissed as cruel ridicule or harmless fun. But what if laughter is a vital force to channel rage against patriarchy, Islamophobia, or mass incarceration? To create moments of empathy and dialogue between Black Lives Matter and the police? These and other such questions are at the heart of this powerful reassessment of humor. Placing theorists in conversation with comedians, Uproarious offers a full-frontal approach to the very foundation of comedy and its profound political impact. Here Cynthia Willett and Julie Willett address the four major theories of humor—superiority, relief, incongruity, and social play—through the lens of feminist and game-changing comics such as Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho, Hannah Gadsby, Hari Kondabolu, and Tig Notaro. They take a radical and holistic approach to the understanding of humor, particularly of humor deployed by those from groups long relegated to the margins, and propose a powerful new understanding of humor as a force that can engender politically progressive social movements. Drawing on a range of cross-disciplinary sources, from philosophies and histories of humor to the psychology and physiology of laughter to animal studies, Uproarious offers a richer understanding of the political and cathartic potential of humor. A major new contribution to a wider dialogue on comedy, Uproarious grounds for us explorations of outsider humor and our golden age of feminist comics—showing that when women, prisoners, even animals, laugh back, comedy along with belly laughs forge new identities and alter the political climate.

Copyright information:

2019 by Cynthia Willett and Julie Willett

This is an Open Access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).
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