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Laughing at American Democracy: Citizenship and the Rhetoric of Stand-Up Satire
Meier, Matthew R.

2014, Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Bowling Green State University, Media and Communication.
With the increasing popularity of satirical television programs such as The Daily Show with Jon
Stewart and The Colbert Report, it is evident that satirical rhetoric has unique and significant
influence on contemporary American culture. The appeal of satirical rhetoric, however, is not
new to the American experience, but its preferred rhetorical form has changed over time. In this
dissertation, I turn to the development of stand-up comedy in America as an example of an
historical iteration of popular satire in order to better understand how the rhetoric of satire
manifests in American culture and how such a rhetoric can affect the democratic nature of that
culture. The contemporary form of stand-up comedy is, historically speaking, a relatively new
phenomenon. Emerging from the post-war context of the late 1950s, the form established itself
as an enduring force in American culture in part because it married the public’s desire for
entertaining oratory and political satire. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, a generation of standup
comedians including Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, and Dick Gregory laid the foundation for
contemporary stand-up comedy by satirizing politics, racism, and social taboos. The of
generation of performers that followed in their wake, notably Richard Pryor and George Carlin,
would further refine the form and reinforce the significance of its capacity to provide an outlet
for satirical rhetoric. Drawing on examples from their satirical stand-up, I argue that the
rhetorical nature of the form and its ability to serve as a vehicle for political satire provides what
Kenneth Burke would call “equipment” for citizenship in a democratic society. Organized as a
generic exploration of satirical stand-up comedy and an historical treatment of satirical rhetoric
in American culture, this project demonstrates how satire and stand-up comedy offer alternative
avenues of political expression and equipment for democratic citizenship.
Gorsevski Ellen, Ph.D. (Advisor)
Butterworth Michael , Ph.D. (Advisor)
González Alberto, Ph.D. (Committee Member)
Begum Khani, Ph.D. (Committee Member)
326 p.

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Meier, M. (2014). Laughing at American Democracy: Citizenship and the Rhetoric of Stand-Up Satire. (Electronic Thesis or Dissertation). Retrieved from https://etd.ohiolink.edu/

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Meier, Matthew. "Laughing at American Democracy: Citizenship and the Rhetoric of Stand-Up Satire." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Bowling Green State University, 2014. OhioLINK Electronic Theses and Dissertations Center. 23 Sep 2017.

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Meier, Matthew "Laughing at American Democracy: Citizenship and the Rhetoric of Stand-Up Satire." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Bowling Green State University, 2014. https://etd.ohiolink.edu/

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