Publication Date



Open access

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


English (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Lindsey Tucker - Committee Chair

Second Committee Member

Joseph Alkana - Committee Member

Third Committee Member

Zack Bowen - Committee Member

Fourth Committee Member

Elaine B. Safer - Outside Committee Member


Belly Laughs: Body Humor in Contemporary American Literature and Film Scholars are more than happy to laugh at but seem somewhat reluctant to discuss body humor, which is perhaps the most neglected form of comedy in recent criticism. In this dissertation, I examine the ways in which contemporary American writers and filmmakers use body humor in their works, not only in moments of so-called "comic relief" but also as a valid way of exploring many of the same issues that postmodern artists typically interrogate in their more somber moments. The writers discussed in this project-Philip Roth, Thomas Pynchon, Charles Johnson, and Woody Allen-were chosen for the divergent ways in which they present the body's comic predicament in psychological, metaphysical, and historical situations. The introduction explains the diverse traditions that these artists draw upon and considers how various theoretical approaches can affect our understanding of body humor. The first chapter examines Jewish-American novelist Philip Roth's use of absurd and grotesque body imagery as manifestations of his characters' moral dilemmas. The second chapter looks at how slapstick comedy informs a worldview dominated by paranioa and chaos in Thomas Pynchon's novels. Chapter Three looks at Woody Allen's early films, in which he parodies and revises the slapstick cinematic tradition of artists like Charlie Chaplin and The Marx Brothers. Chapter Four considers African-American writer and cartoonist Charles Johnson's depiction of the ways in which the body's desires and pitfalls complicate the quest for spiritual enlightenment.


Comedy; Humor; The Body; Philip Roth; Thomas Pynchon; Woody Allen; Charles Johnson; Contemporary American Literature; American Film