Humour, Culture, and Identity
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Wolverhampton
Unit of AssessmentEnglish Language and Literature
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
Dr Paul McDonald is an award-winning writer whose comic novels, short
stories, and poetry have established him as a leading figure in the
literature of the Black Country. His creative output is informed by
scholarly research into humour and humour-writing that has national and
international reach, and has contributed to the public knowledge of the
history and cultural significance of humour. Specifically, he has:
- benefited economic prosperity through media commissions in the
creative sector (e.g. via promotion, sales, and web traffic);
- contributed to creating, inspiring, and supporting the cultural life
of the West Midlands.
McDonald explores Jewish-American, and American humour more generally, in
a number of articles published between 2004-2010 in journals such as the Journal
of Popular Culture and the Journal of Ecocriticism, and in
edited collections from Amsterdam University Press, and Königshausen u.
Neumann. This work develops his concern for how humour functions in its
cultural context and culminates in two books, Laughing at the
Darkness: Optimism and Postmodernism in American Humour (2011) and The
Philosophy of Humour (2012). The former draws on over 200 primary
and secondary sources, and demonstrates how humour becomes a corrective to
the negative implications of philosophical postmodernism. The latter shows
how creative writing exercises can explicate and interrogate classic
humour theories and involved researching philosophies of humour from
antiquity to the present.
McDonald's comic novels explore aspects of popular music, literature, and
social relations in the Black Country/West Midlands of the mid to late
twentieth century. The research for McDonald's first novel, Surviving
Sting (2001), involved interviewing leather trade workers, as well
as reading material on 1970s British culture. For his second, Kiss Me
Softly, Amy Turtle (2004), he shadowed a Birmingham Evening Mail
journalist and interviewed sex workers and NHS representatives. Do I
Love You? (2008) is presented against the backdrop of the Midlands
Northern Soul music scene, and research included interviewing people
involved with this subculture, as well as reading the large corpus of
primary and secondary sources that document its history. It also involved
interviewing Health Visitors, together with West Midlands Council
employees and teachers. One critic calls the novel `an unflinching
depiction of life in the Midlands, a historical and sociological view of
the Northern Soul scene' (Transition-Tradition). With his
collections of poetry, Catch a Falling Tortoise (2007) and An
Artist Goes Bananas (2012), McDonald extends this regional focus to
include transnational and universal reflections on nature, art, social
responsibility, and personal failure in comic, tragi-comic, and more
McDonald is also concerned to preserve and promote Black Country writing.
He is the author of a study of neglected Black Country writers, Fiction
from the Furnace: A Hundred Years of Black Country Writing
(Sheffield University Press, 2002). The research for this involved
studying all available novel-length works written by regional writers, and
all available secondary sources. He also edited a collection of short
stories by contemporary writers from or connected to the West Midlands, Loffing
Matters (2006), in order to promote and inspire unpublished writers.
This links McDonald's humour research and his own status as a creative
writer and involved McDonald evaluating the large amount of writing
submitted, and editing his selections. His scholarly work on regional
writing, which includes numerous articles for The Blackcountryman,
was undertaken partly with a view to finding ways of positioning himself
creatively within the existing canon, and his close readings of this
writing have influenced his own imaginative work, both in terms of theme
References to the research
Surviving Sting. Birmingham: Tindal Street Press, 2001. (Novel).
(Quality Indicators: Reviewed in The Times, 6 October 2001; Time
Out, 17-24 October 2001).
Kiss Me Softly, Amy Turtle. Birmingham: Tindal Street Press, 2004.
(Novel). (Quality Indicators: Reviewed in The Times Literary
Supplement, 21 May 2004; The Telegraph, 12 July 2007).
Catch a Falling Tortoise. Blaenau Ffestiniog: Cinnamon Press,
2007. (Poetry). (Quality Indicators: Reviewed in New Hope
International Review, September 2007; Ink, Sweat and Tears: The
Poetry and Prose Webzine, November 2007; Welsh Book Council, www.gwales.com,
2012; includes poems published previously in Iota [ISSN
0266-2922], The Journal [1466-5220], Other Poetry
[0144-5847], and Staple [0266-4410]).
Do I Love You? Birmingham: Tindal Street Press, 2008. (Novel)
(Quality Indicators: Reviewed in The Times, TLS (cover
quotes), The Telegraph, September 2008, Irish Central, 7
March 2010; Transition/Tradition, 7 December 2008; submitted in
REF2 - output PM1).
Laughing at the Darkness: Optimism and Postmodernism in American
Humour. Penrith: Humanities-Ebooks, 2011. (Criticism). (Quality
Indicator: Submitted in REF2 - output PM2).
The Philosophy of Humour. Penrith: Humanities-Ebooks, 2012.
(Criticism). (Quality Indicator: Submitted in REF2 - output PM4).
Details of the impact
Benefiting Economic Prosperity through Media Commissions
Through media commissions, McDonald's research has benefited commercial
clients, and contributed to public knowledge of the history and cultural
significance of humour. In 2008, publicist Taylor Herring and their client
UKTV commissioned McDonald to research the world's oldest joke in order to
publicise Dave TV, drive traffic to the Dave TV website, and promote a
stand-up comedy event, `Live at the Apollo'. McDonald's discovery of a
Sumerian flatulence joke (c. 1900 BC) was broadcast in interviews for BBC
Breakfast (TV), BBC Midlands Today (TV), BBC World
Service, Sky News, and 31 local radio stations. The story
was covered by every major UK newspaper and worldwide (via Reuters) in
such media as China Daily.com, ABC Australia, The Economic Times-India,
and International Business Times-New York, with an estimated audience of
196 million (Taylor Herring, 2008). The coverage exceeded expectations
(`We also surpassed our original target by getting 90% of online coverage
to credit the Dave website or provide a link directly to it') and the
client responded enthusiastically: `Fantastic Dave coverage . . . super
impressed with the amount of interviews' (TH, 2008).
Additional responses included a chapter on McDonald's findings in Jim
Dawson's Did Somebody Step on a Duck?: A Natural History of the Fart
(2010), where the `recent discovery of the oldest joke' is the lead
selling feature on Amazon Books. McDonald was subsequently commissioned to
research, help script, and contribute on screen to Ye Olde Stand Up
(Icon Films), directed by Dominic Weston, and presented by Barry Cryer on
BBC's The One Show (12 August 2010; estimated audience 4.5 million
[BBC Publicity, online]). More recently, McDonald contributed research and
an on-screen interview for the BBC documentary, Michael Grade and the
World's Oldest Joke (BBC4, 6 and 7 March 2013), previewed in The
Radio Times and widely reviewed in the national press including The
Independent and Daily Mail.
McDonald extends the reach of this research in accessible articles,
published in both regional and national newspapers (e.g. `How to Write a
Funny Short Story', Birmingham Post, 1 December 2008 [circulation
11,000]; `Heard the One About The Oldest Joke in the World?', Independent
on Sunday 19 December 2010 [circulation 124,000]). Internationally,
the research continues to reverberate.
The 19-Emmy Award winning US-based documentary filmmaker and television
producer Troy Hale read of McDonald's work in the Dawson book and invited
McDonald to join a new project, `Fart, a documentary film: the history and
comedy of farting'; McDonald was filmed and interviewed in June 2013 and
the documentary will be released in 2014.
Creating, Inspiring, and Supporting West Midlands Cultural Life
McDonald's comic novels, all published with award-winning Birmingham
publisher Tindal Street Press, have promoted public engagement with
regional issues through humour. Do I Love You? (2008) has sold
2000 copies and has been widely reviewed regionally and nationally,
including The Times, The Times Literary Supplement, The
Telegraph, and Time Out, eliciting comments on the novel's
accessibility and local colouring (`as Black Country as Balti and Banks's
Bitter' [Time Out]).
McDonald has also benefited publics by giving readings and workshops at
numerous arts events including, The Birmingham Book Festival (October
2008, audience 60), The Lichfield Literary Festival (October 2012, 40),
The Wellington Literary Festival (October 2012, 30), and The Peterborough
We Love Words Festival (September 2012, 40). He distributed free books at
Lichfield City Railway Station for World Book Day (3 March 2011), an event
organised by Staffordshire County Council and the train operator London
Midland to `bring people back to reading and encourage them to enjoy ...
their local library' (GlobalRailNews, online); and has given talks and
workshops for numerous institutions, including Winson Green Prison (June
2009), Swinfen Prison (August 2011), and 18 regional libraries, schools,
and colleges within the census period (e.g. Birmingham Library, Bloxwich
Library, Hereford Library, and Sandwell Academy).
McDonald's interest in the relationship between humour and creativity has
also been disseminated via 7 public lectures and workshops since 2008,
including, `Philosophy, Humour, Writing,' part of the Arts Council funded
Hooky Street Press series `bring[ing] together artists, writers, academics
and comedians in developing a model of art-writing that draws upon ...
comical writing genres outside of art', Eastside Projects, Birmingham,
July 2012, recorded for online broadcast.
The reach of McDonald's research is indicated by the cumulative
audiences of his outreach activities and the local, national, and
international media circulation of his contributions to radio, television,
and print journalism (figures cited above).
Its significance is indicated by favourable reviews and public
notices, his many invitations to give public lectures and workshops
regionally and nationally, and prizes - McDonald is a four times prize
winner in the Ottakar/Faber & Faber Poetry Competition, and won first
prize in both the John Clare Poetry Competition, 2012, judged by Sir
Andrew Motion, and the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Prize, 2013.
Sources to corroborate the impact
Corroboration of responses to media commissions:
Corroboration of responses to regional support activities:
- `From Saddles to Chuckles', interview with BBC local radio, January
2007; article updated 25 January 2008 http://www.bbc.co.uk/blackcountry/content/articles/2007/01/15/paul_mcdonald_feature.shtml
- `Philosophy, Humour, Writing', public lecture given at the Eastside
Projects Birmingham, 4 July 2012. http://extraspecialpeople.org/events/hooky-st-press-writing-talk-1-dr-paul-mcdonald;
- Diane Perry, `The Recipe for Laugher', Working to Write, Blog,
21 October 2012. On McDonald's workshop at Wellington Literary Festival
(`a wonderful workshop ... a real insight into how to write humour'). http://working2write.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/the-recipe-for-laughter.html
- `Spend the Evening with Local Writer Paul McDonald, April 18 ,
The Drop Forge', Jewellery Quarter Bookwormers Group, online
announcement and responses from attendees (`great fun, entertaining and
informative', `Hearing Paul read ... really brought the humour to life'.
`Paul made the evening a lot of fun ... A great turn out attendee wise
too for this event') http://www.meetup.com/JQBookwormers/events/82194572/?_af_eid=82194572&a=uc1_te&_af=event