Comedy as Politics

Comedy as Politics
Todd McGowan

June 12, Saturday, 10-1 PM EST.
Online via Zoom.

If Todd McGowan’s book on Hegel didn’t exist, we would have to invent it. McGowan is the giant of Vermont, the Bernie Sanders of the academy, the Larry David of Lacanian theory. ― Continental Thought and Theory 

There are surprisingly few theories about comedy. Even though we are surrounding by comedy and everyone partakes in it in some way, there are many more theories of tragedy than there are of comedy. This seminar will be part of an attempt to rectify this deficiency. We will explore an idea of comedy as what occurs when lack and excess intersect. Comedy has its basis in language, and language produces lacking subjects, subjects who are constantly desiring. But it also produces subjects who respond to this lack with excess, and it is this incongruous combination that forms the basis for all comedy. This is the idea that the seminar will investigate. 

One of the central questions concerning comedy is the political role that it plays. On the basis of this theory of comedy as the conjunction of lack and excess, this seminar will examine comedy’s political effect. We will look at explicitly political comedy but also at films that make their political points through narrative structures. 

The seminar will consider how comedy doesn’t simply reveal the hidden truth of society but rather exposes the connections that everyday life keeps at a distance. By exposing this contradiction of the coincidence between lack and excess, the comic works expose contradictions and thereby provide a constant challenge to the structure of capitalist society, which functions by obscuring its contradictions. The question of the relationship between comedy and capitalism will be central to the seminar. 

Facilitator: Todd McGowan teaches theory and film at the University of Vermont. He is the author of Universality and Identity Politics, Emancipation After Hegel, Only a Joke Can Save Us, and other works. He is the coeditor of the Diaeresis series at Northwestern University Press with Slavoj Žižek and Adrian Johnston, and he is the editor of the Film Theory in Practice series at Bloomsbury. 

Reading: Chapter one of Only a Joke Can Save Us (Link available on the Eventbrite page once registered)

Seminar Cost:

  • $30 – Member Ticket for Incite Seminars Patreon Supports at any level
  • $45 – Non-Member (True Cost) Ticket
  • $90 – Generous Supporter Ticket
  • $15 – Student/Contingent Scholar/Activist Ticket
  • Solidarity pay-what-you-can tickets are also available for those who cannot afford any of the above tiers. Please email us.


Please register by buying a ticket at our Eventbrite page. We are committed to making all our offerings accessible to those who are eager to learn, regardless of financial means. If you have any questions or concerns, please email

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