Forthcoming from Common Notions Press, November 15, 2022.
“Comedy can be a weapon, Madeline Lane-McKinley reminds us, in any hands, for good or for fascist purposes. In her hands, it is a scalpel for taking apart the world of work, for teaching us how it got so damn bad. But it is also, she brilliantly reminds us, a tool for dismantling capitalist common sense. Join her as she encourages us to embrace laughter as a refusal of work and to claim the rich pleasures of being a killjoy.”—Sarah Jaffe, author of Work Won’t Love You Back
“Comedy Against Work is the most pleasurable, wide-ranging, and deeply knowledgeable guide to the contradictions of contemporary capitalist culture that I have read in a very long time. Lane-McKinley achieves that rare accomplishment: a book that will appeal equally to casual lovers of humor and its history, from the origins of stand-up to the lockdown comedy podcast, and to readers looking for a critical account of how this history of humor intersects with the changing landscape of work in the U.S. context from the 1970s to the present. Comedy Against Work sits squarely within the great tradition of Marxist books that offer a framework for thought to an audience longing to understand why things are the way they are, how they got to be that way, what it means, and what we can do with this knowledge to change our conditions for the better. A great addition to the growing corpus of popular manifestos coming from leading thinkers of the Left.“—Jordy Rosenberg, author of Confessions of the Fox
“From working-class sitcoms to podcasts about making podcasts, this whirlwind tour of American comedy brings labor to the front, where Madeline Lane-McKinley reveals it has been all along. You’ll never laugh the same!”—Malcolm Harris, author of Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials
“When work sucks and society appears on the verge of collapse, the laugh-makers are there to numb us back into passivity. But sometimes, Madeline Lane-McKinley reminds us, there are class clowns who help us envision a more egalitarian alternative and future. In this radically insightful and critical analysis of the relationship between labor, comedy, and political economy, Lane-McKinley looks closely and clearly at the anti-utopian and utopian potential of comedy alongside the social and political divides that pervade our everyday lives.”—Raúl Pérez, author of The Souls of White Jokes: How Racist Humor Fuels White Supremacy
“What a deeply creative exploration of humor and its discontents Madeline Lane-McKinley has given us, one which takes readers on a tour of sitcoms, standup, late night and comedy strikes. What is so funny about late capitalism, anyway? This is a book about the wages of laughter and it’s for anyone who has wondered whether the joke is on capitalism or them.”—Leigh Claire La Berge, Fellow at Free University of Berlin and author of Wages Against Artwork
“Madeline Lane-McKinley is among the brightest fruits in the anglophone critical ecology of utopian thinkers, and this hotly anticipated book does not disappoint. Here, the labors of laughter—in and against capitalism’s work society—become a way of understanding structural violence, a gauge for shifting economic logics, and also a possible weapon for liberation. In these pages, Lane-McKinley showcases the full potential of the unique tendency of antiwork cultural criticism for which Blind Field, the journal she co-founded, is known. Comedy Against Work not only educates our desire for a world utterly transformed, it provides us with tools that can help us actualize it.” —Sophie Lewis, author of Abolish the Family: A Manifesto for Care and Liberation
“Moving deftly between mordant critique and radical hope, Comedy Against Work illuminates both the comedy of work and the work of comedy. Attuned to comedy’s history and politics as well as to its form, Lane-McKinley offers a compelling and original narrative that gets us from Lucille Ball frantically trying to keep pace with an assembly line to contemporary feminist stand-up and its anti-work “dream of rest.” Comedy Against Work also provocatively breaks the form of the traditional scholarly “work” by interweaving personal narratives—from Lane-McKinley’s memories of watching her grandmother watch TV while doing housework to her own experiences as an academic “gigworker.” Smart, moving, and politically fierce, this book will change the way we think about comedy and illuminate the way to a world beyond work.”—Annie McClanahan, author of Dead Pledges: Debt, Crisis, and Twenty-First-Century Culture
“A lively, amusing, galvanizing charting of comedy’s unique capacity to register our pervasive ambivalence about work: our dependence on it, our complicated ways of being shaped and plagued by it, and our desires to escape it. Rooted in our antiwork moment, but historicizing comedic forms from the sitcom to the stand-up routine to the Covid comedy special, Lane-McKinley sees comedy as revolutionary laughter, bulwark against despair, collective complaint, and utopian longing because the world of work we’ve known—abuse, compulsion, mortal danger to self and planet—isn’t the only possibility.”—Sarah Brouillette, Professor of English, Carleton University
Work is a joke and often the butt of our jokes. In comedy, we find ways to endure and cope with the world of work, but also to question the conditions of capitalist life.
When work is slowly killing us and destroying the planet and, at the same time, something impossible to imagine life without, Lane-McKinley considers the possibility of comedy as a revolutionary practice. By appealing to laughter—what Walter Benjamin called the most “revolutionary emotion of the masses,” or as Audre Lorde put it, the “open and fearless underlining” of our capacity for joy—we can counteract many of our shared miseries under capitalism, including our relationship to work.
But to think through these revolutionary aspects of comedy as a practice also involves troubling comedy’s relationship to the global right turn of the last decade. Stand-up comedy’s claims to the artistic freedom of hate speech in comedy represent a fascistic current of our world today, blurring the boundaries between left and “alt” right. Against this current, the book draws from a tradition of feminist critical utopianism, Marxist-feminism, and contemporary cultural criticism to reflect on an anti-fascist poetics of comedy, grounded in a critique of work.