American (Jewish) Humor in an Era of Ethnic Sensitivity and Cultural Competence

The University of South Carolina will explore current perspectives on American (Jewish) Humor through a conference on April 28 – 30, 2018. The conference seeks to serve both the University of South Carolina and the Columbia community by bringing about a much-needed discussion of civility in discourse, as it relates to the use (and misuse) of religious, ethnic, racial, and gender humor. SC Humanities supported this program with a Mini Grant.

The conference will examine humor in the contexts of (i) American and European traditions; (ii) racial, ethnic, religious, and gender-based humor in general; and (iii) the current social and political climate that questions the purposes and legitimacy of such humor. Situating Jewish, racial, ethnic, religious, and gender humor in a present-day milieu of heightened ethnic sensitivities, it will explore the boundaries between identity and offense. The conference will include invited presentations (variously) on Jewish, African-American, ethnic, gender, and religious humor by internationally established scholars of American humor, along with contributions by local and regional scholars. Presentations will compare and contrast different categories of humor, as well as explore the tensions between sincere characterization and offensive caricature in the realm of humor discourse. the conference will also include a screening of the film “The Last Laugh” (a documentary on Holocaust humor, featuring survivors, writers and comedians) and a lecture by the filmmaker, Ferne Pearlstein.

Topics and questions to be addressed by the conference presentations include:

• Civil discourse. How do we talk to each other in a civil manner using humor as a vehicle?
• Understanding the message. 
How does humor serve to articulate values, attitudes, opinions and concerns?
• Calculating limits. 
What are the limits of ethnic, racial, and religious humor? When does humor become offense, and what category of offense does humor represent?
• Determining entitlements. 
Who is entitled to use humor of a particular type? In what contexts? Who is entitled to hear such humor?
• Adjusting for the medium. 
What are the differences between print and oral delivery? Between the printed word and the illustration?

More information about the conference, including the full schedule and venues, can be found here.

The mission of SC Humanities is to enrich the cultural and intellectual lives of all South Carolinians. Established in 1973, this 501(c) 3 organization is governed by a volunteer 20-member Board of Directors comprised of community leaders from throughout the state. It presents and/or supports literary initiatives, lectures, exhibits, festivals, publications, oral history projects, videos and other humanities-based experiences that directly or indirectly reach more than 250,000 citizens annually.