Grin Up North- Three Minute Thesis

Reposted from my new PhD blog above:

I’m interested in whether humour and performed auto-ethnography can work in academic settings. There’ve been tiny indicators that it might not always fit at Leeds- the newsletter that didn’t like me mentioning a spoken word cabaret event would be enjoyable and had drinks at the bar (wine and canapés at classical music events are totally acceptable), the panel for the post-grad conference who debated whether my performance paper would be serious enough. On the other hand, I think it can work as a critical tool and I could see the “Three Minute Thesis Competition” would be a good place to try it out. Apparently sixty people entered the heats and I qualified to be one of the final sixteen in the imposing setting of Leeds’ Great Hall. I’d been sanguine about progressing and thought I might not have much chance against the breast cancer curers and atomic clock investigators (It was mostly scientists), but on the other hand knew that engaging an audience was something I’m used to as a performer. Could an actual demonstration of including an audience’s voice work or would it not be clear that practice-led research involves practical techniques and I was using one of them to illustrate one of the properties of stand up performance? I went into Participant Observation mode during the competition and noticed that visceral responses were quite muted across the talks, but mine did seem to generate quite a big audience “Hum” afterwards (as well as laughs where I hoped there’d be). I was also a more visceral audience member than many. In the row of thesis entrants I began to feel a bit like the mad lady on the bus, with my hums and nods and laughs at other participants. I also began to realise that if I was wanting to say I’d experimented with using humour and dialogue to subvert the single voice of academic discourse, it would be handy to prove this by being placed somewhere (Otherwise I’d have to go and ask where in the order I’d come and look overly concerned about results). Happily, my engaging with the audience chimed well with the audience engagement rhetoric of “Impact” and “Outreach” and the buzzwords that motivate this sort of competition and I was placed third and got the bonus of a £100 prize. I also managed to do some vox pops with a couple of audience members (It is quite awkward to go up to someone and basically say “Tell me what you thought of me” but I’ve been thinking a lot about how if I’m asserting that stand up is a dialogic form then my research sometimes needs to include both performers and audience of the same gig. This was just a small step in that direction). The text of the thesis feels like a bit of a simplification of where I’m at with it- but also a useful temporary distillation. Here it is:

Grin Up North

We have a great variety of voices and accents here in this hall, but my own, my Northern English one is not particularly acceptable in academia. Studies have shown that most female academics lose any regional accents entirely in order to be taken seriously. So do some men, but some exaggerate them on purpose.

This probably explains the lack of regional English accents in our public sphere. Have you ever heard a Geordie reading the news or a Brummie announcing the Queen’s speech?

However Brummie, the Birmingham accent, actually came out top when some non-UK natives were asked to rate accents for beauty.

It’s the association with being working class that makes regional accents problematic in serious spheres.

We’ve still got big class and gender issues when it comes to who represents us- for example, 70% of judges went to private schools compared to 7% of the public, 43% of newspaper columnists went to public schools and 42% of Radio 4 Woman’s Hour’s Women of Power list.

Still, I thought- at least Northerners could be taken seriously as comedians? Stand up comedy is seen as meritocratic- it’s just about being funny.

Well, my research is showing me that they’re not. Interviewing Northern performers shows they feel they’re often dismissed or stereotyped as club comics by London based reviewers. Only 2 out of thirty years of winners of the most prestigious comedy award, the Fosters, have had Northern accents.

Across 48 series of BBC1’s satirical comedy Have I Got News For You, only 5% of the guests have had Northern accents.

At a time when comedians have increasing profile as commentators, this is another sphere in which Northerners voices aren’t being heard.

They have different ways to resist this- for example talking openly about class. Gavin Webster saying- “I’m not saying they’re posh but their ice cream vans play Rachmaninov” playing with language-

Hylda Baker saying she was off for electrocution lessons.

Me, storming the citadels of academia with my whippet and my flat cap and my baps- that’s why I’m doing a practice-based PhD and also, talking to audiences.

Stand up is a form in which dialogue undercuts the single voice of traditional modes like academia, science or religion- that’s why it can be powerful and scary.

So I’m going to slightly disrupt academic convention and ask you for the final word in this three minute thesis- since it’s powerful to hear other, diverse voices. On the count of three shout out your own regional or national word for a bread roll (It’s okay if it’s bread roll) 1, 2, 3…