After completing Assignment 1, I realized that I sometimes struggle with creativity in my writing. The prompt was very loose and exploratory, forcing me to think critically yet abstractly about the topic at hand. There was such a wide breadth of topics to choose to speak about that it was difficult to narrow down something that truly resonated with me. In addition, once I finally decided on a topic, I did not know where to begin analyzing or writing as a result of the loose, interpretive prompt. I had to sit down and explore what the topic meant to me before I could begin the writing process, instead of merely just responded to a set question. Therefore, the assignment exposed how challenging thinking outside of the box is for me while brainstorming for a writing project.
Comedy as a form of entertainment developed in the age of the Ancient Greeks and was first defined by Aristotle as an imitation of those worse than the average (Hoy). Comedy has evolved since antiquity, but remains as the use of humor to captivate and cheer an audience. Integral to comedy’s success is vocality: how a comedian implements their voice in order to storytell and instill an audience with laughter. The comedic voice is a collection of individual, unique comedians who contribute their experiences and thoughts about the world around them in an amusing fashion. However, many comedians receive backlash for targeting sensitive topics as the basis for their jokes. In this context, voices are given a negative connotation but the reality is quite the opposite. Comedians utilize their influential voices to bring light to taboo topics which are not typically acceptable to speak about in today’s political climate. Thus, the comedic voice is important since it represents a challenge to moral righteousness in pursuit of an unfettered space to discuss previously illicit issues.
The comedic voice’s role as a social vice is first seen in the works of Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor; comedians that had a provocative style, pushing the boundaries of social morality. The voices of Bruce and Pryor are impassioned, aggravating, yet incisive, qualities that can intimidate an audience member. The irate material quality of their voices and derogatory subject matter can incite negative first impressions. This phenomenon occurs since “whenever we speak, our voices convey information about us as individuals” (Karpf). The unsuspecting listener may observe the angry qualities of these voices and immediately dismay the comedian as controversial or distasteful. However, with more examination and exposure to the voice the true importance and influence of the comedian is revealed.
Voice is revelatory of our identities, an actuality that comedians rely on in order to distinguish themselves within the the collective comedic voice. Richard Pryor built a reputation for a salacious and politically-incorrect style of comedy, targeting the police, social injustice, whites, and much more as topics for his jokes. However, under the surface, this controversial style was a way to shed light on the problems plaguing society of the time through the use of his expressive voice. Voice is not just a conduit for language, it is “our personal and social glue, helping to create bonds between individuals and groups” (Kreiman and Sidtis). Comedians target sensitive topics in order to resonate with audience members who may have undergone similar experiences and are unable to voice their opinions and feelings. Since the beginning of its history, comedy’s purpose has been “to hold a mirror up to society to reflect its follies and vices” (Hoy). Therefore, comedy provides a platform for an individual to speak upon taboo topics in society which otherwise remain unscathed. Thus, although comedic voices may display a vulgar facade, they are in fact a medium to connect an audience and call into question delicate social ideals.
The comedic voice constructs a culture; initial attempts to lambaste moral righteousness have paved the way for future comedians to tackle contemporary ills of society. The comedic audacity of Bruce, Pryor, and equivalents gave rise to brilliant comedic voices of women and people of color. The sexual candor of early comedians coupled with the women’s liberation movement allowed modern female comedians such as Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman to speak freely about their bodies and sexuality (Cohen). Societal boundaries once in place were obliterated by comedy’s frank nature, giving women the platform to use their voices to call into question gender discrepancies in society. This multi-generational and multi-vocal authenticity has helped to normalize issues that were once considered taboo. Dave Chapelle, Jordan Peele, W. Kamau Bell, and other black comedians were able to follow the lead of Pryor and use their influential voices to further discussions on race, social injustice, and masculinity (Cohen). Orality in comedy is thereby meant to place societal issues on a pedestal, opening a humorous dialogue to diminish their condemning status.
Comedians will always utilize their voice to dispute topics considered out of bounds for moral society. In calling out what society deems as prohibited, comedians use vocality to create a collective bonded together by humor and shared experiences. However, the comedian’s role goes far beyond laughter. Inflammatory humor is a vehicle of tackling societal constraints by unrestricting dialogue, exposing hypocrisy, and empowering those without a voice. The comedic voice epitomizes the notion that our voices are revelatory of our identity, thereby providing us individuality and the power to impact the world around us.
Cohen, Sascha. “How the Marginalized Invented Politically Incorrect Comedy: Essay.”
Zócalo Public Square, 2 Oct. 2017, www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/09/19/marginalized-invented-offensive-comedy/ideas/nexus/.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Richard Pryor.” Encyclopædia Britannica,
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 6 Dec. 2019,
Hoy, Cyrus Henry. “Sentimental Comedy of the 17th and 18th Centuries.” Encyclopædia
Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 11 Apr. 2014,
Karpf, Anne. The Human Voice: How This Extraordinary Instrument Reveals Essential Clues
About Who We Are. Bloomsbury Pub. Plc., 2006.
Kreiman, Jody, and Diana Sidtis. Foundations of Voice Studies: an Interdisciplinary Approach
to Voice Production and Perception. Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.
Voice is a commodity all humans possess. Whether strictly vocal or physically expressive, we communicate emotions, ideas, and individuality to others through our voices. Broadcasting unique experiences through orality is a tool mastered by comedians in the perfection of their craft. Comedians rely on their voice as material insofar as voices become a means of relating personal ideas and experiences with an audience in a humorous fashion. Therefore, comedians are masters of voice, utilizing their vocality in order to entertain and instruct.
Comedians require a distinctive, refined voice in order to command their audience. The reception and outcome of a joke is dependent on its delivery, meaning that vocality is extremely important to comedians. During routines, comedians must employ intonation, timbre, enunciation, punctuation, and many other vocal skills in order to deliver a joke. Vocal timbre can be used to set emotion or intensity, punctuation can be used to stress specific words, and unique intonation can be used to add flare and individuality. In combination, these vocal strategies can determine whether or not a joke receives a laugh. A comedian’s mastery of their vocal elements is essential to establishing personal style and entertaining an audience.
Comedians require proficiency in the physical traits of voice; however, their influence and ability to entertain is also the result of the storying power of voice. Comedians apply humor to their own experiences and then relate them to an audience, exemplifying the power of storying. The process of personal storytelling is an intimate event, thereby drawing in an audience and connecting them with the comedian. Voice is therefore essential for comedians to accomplish their main goal of establishing a relationship with their audience. Hence, a comedian’s voice is a vessel for material used to entertain, connect, and inform listeners.
Voice as Culture
In my definition, “Voice as Culture” is the process of harnessing orality in order to transmit cultural identity and customs. Voices are utilized to convey one’s culture to subsequent generations to instruct customs and to broadcast specific traits to other cultures with the means of exposing them to new paradigms. For my piece I have the recipe of the Italian fish stew, cioppino, which is represented by the pictures I included above. I utilized pictures as symbols since the recipe is part of my spoken Italian heritage and cannot be put on paper. Cioppino was first introduced to my family through my first-generation great grandparents who lived in North Beach, the Italian district in San Francisco. The recipe was shared between most at the time, with my family adopting it orally and incorporating it into our family’s culture. From the initial acceptance of the recipe, it has been passed down to successive generations in my family. This oral passing of Italian tradition exemplifies “Voice as Culture” within my experience because my family has applied speech in order to transmit an integral part of our culture through generations. As a result of this oral culture bestowed to me, I am able to prepare a staple food in my culture that has been passed down from my great grandparents.