ICSM The Joke is on Us: Comedy as Social Rhetoric

IC Library Print & Media Resources

Biography in Context

will provide succinct biographies for individual comedians, as well as links to newspaper, magazine, and journal articles, along with entries from other reference resources.


[Because the IC Library has never systematically collected books on stand-up comedy, you might want to take a look at what exists elsewhere and is readily available through interlibrary loan (the ordering process is described below). 
     WorldCat via FirstSearch  is a "union catalog" that allows you to search the holdings of over 10,000 libraries from accross the country and around the world. Check WorldCat to discover what the entire universe of possible resources looks like for your topic. 
User Advisory:
  • Because of the enormous size--over two billion items--and diversity of media acessible through WorldCat, I strongly recommend using the "Advanced Search," where you have several input fields and can set multiple search limits.
  • In addition to Author, Title, and Keyword, note that the drop down menus of search fields offer a Subject search, which can be very useful if you have a topic in mind rather than a particular item.
  • Format is the most useful limit to set. In such a large database it helps enormously to indicate whether you are searching for a book, a DVD, a CD, etc.
  • If your topic is time-sensitive, try focusing on a recent time span under Year.

IC Library Databases (Articles)

Recommended Databases

     General OneFile : is the most user-friendly of our comprehensive databases, covering almost any topic from a wide range of disciplinary angles and offering lots of full text.  Use the "Browse Subjects" search to find the best subject heading for your topic (and when you find a good one be sure to look at the "Related Subjects" to see if there's something even better).  For this topic "Stand-Up Comedy," "Comedians," "Comedy," and "Comedy Clubs" may be your best bets--or the name, last name first, of a particular comedian.
     When you settle on a subject heading, open the "Subdivisions" link below it.  Most General OneFile subject searchs produce very large retrievals and the "subdivisions" help you narrow your search to a particular aspect: For this topic "Analysis," "Psychological Aspects," and "Social Aspects" might prove of particular interest.
      If the best available Subject or Subdivision is still too broad, open it and add your own Keywords in the "Search within these results" slot at the upper left.
     User Advisory: When first viewing your retrievals in General OneFile, note that you are seeing onlythe "Magazines" (popular articles) and must click on the tabs for "Academic Journals" (scholarly articles) or "News" (newspaper articles) to see those results.
      Academic Search Premier  Comprehensive subject coverage with considerable full text.  Note that there is a “Subject Terms” link just above the search boxes, allowing you to search the index of Subject Headings--often a good first stop for more efficient Subject searching whereby you are guaranteed that your topic is indeed a main subject of the articles retrieved.  For this topic try "Stand-up Comedy," "Comedians," "Women Comedians," "Jewish Comedians," or "Comedy."  And if you want to find articles on  an individual comedian, select a "People" search from the "Select a Search" menu on the home page and enter the name, last name first.
     A good initial strategy in this database is to search a likely topic in the Subject Terms and when you find it “explode” the term by double clicking it--this brings up a list of related Subject terms.  You can check as many terms as you like before "adding" them to your search by AND-ing or OR-ing them together.
     User Advisory: For any retrieved set of articles, there will be a box displayed on the left that will limit the articles to “Scholarly” journals—just check the box and click the “Update Results” button below.

     LexisNexis Academic  News:  Offering a keyword search of 100% full text from a vast number of national and international newspapers, this is an easy database to use poorly and a bit tricky to use well. In order not to be overwhelmed with articles in which your search terms are mentioned anywhere—first or last paragraph—or any number of times—once or ten times—use commands to target articles in which your topic words are mentioned early or mentioned often.
     Use the hlead command (headline and lead paragraphs) to target articles in which your topic words occur in the prime news-story position of headline or first paragraphs. For example: hlead(fracking and pollution) will retrieve just the articles in which the words “fracking” and “pollution” are used in the headline or first paragraphs. Note: the term or terms to which you want this command to apply must be put in parentheses after hlead, with no space between.
     Use the altleast command to target articles in which your topic words occur a set number of times. For example: atleast5(“gay marriage”) will retrieve only the articles where this phrase is used at least 5 times—indicating that it must be a main topic. You can plug in any number after atleast—atleast3 or atleast7. Note: the term or terms to which you want this command to apply must be put in parentheses with no space between the number you choose and the first parenthesis.
     Use the date range offered under Advanced Options. Because this is a large database of 100% full text, one of the most effective ways to retrieve fewer than 1000 hits is to set up a time frame. Note: if you use the calendar icons to set beginning and end dates, you need to choose a year, a month, and a day for each. Without the day, the date won’t register.
     New York Times (1851-2009)  gives access to the full text of the New York Times 1851-2006. Reset the default search of "citation and document text" to "citation and abstract" (since this is a Keyword search of 100% full text, you are likely to generate too many passing mentions of your search terms if you search all the text; first try the more focused "citation and abstract" search and only broaden it to "document text" if you retrieve too few hits). 
     Use the "date range" limits to target the primary sources available here--contemporary reports. Without a date range limit you may retrieve hundreds of articles written decades after the events they discuss or articles on the later career of someone whose early career most interests you. For example, a search on "Woody Allen" with a date range of 1960--1965 will retrieve reviews of his stand-up career in the early 60s and not bury you in stories about his later film career.
     User Advisory: when searching for materials from earlier eras, be aware that language changes over time. For example, the term "stand-up" was not much used before the 60s and female comics were usually called "comediennes."  Also, a headline from 1961 refers to Dick Gregory as a "negro" comic--perfectly standard usage for a time before anyone used a term like African American.
     PsycINFO :  The American Psychological Association use their own Subject vocabulary (called "Descriptors"), so a visit to the "Thesaurus" below the search slots is a good idea. If you find an article on exactly what you want, be sure to check the assigned "Descriptors" on the right of the citation for more ideas about useful search terms.  Neither "stand-up" nor "comedians" is available as a Descriptor here, but running a Subject search on "Jokes" or "Humor" will retrieve many articles on the psychological analysis of these phenomena.  
     PsycINFO deals only with scholarly literature, much of it assuming a graduate-level understanding of the discipline.  But among these you may find interesting, accessible articles on your topic.  
     User Advisory: If what you're searching for are "journal articles only" in "English," it's a good idea to check those boxes (below the search slots).
     ProQuest Research Library : Another comprehensive database with substantial full text.  Use the "Thesaurus" (above the search slots) to preview what Subject Headings are available.  Subect searching can be a more efficient way to search than with only Keywords, since it guarantees that the articles retrieved actually be about the Subject--not just use a particular word. 
     Note that to the right of your search results you can limit your retrieval by "Source Type" (including Magazines, Newspapers, Scholarly Journals),  "Document Type," (including Cover Story, Editorial, or Interview), "Document Feature" (including Photographs, Illustrations), and "Location."
     There is no Subject Heading for stand-up here, so your best bet is to put "Comedy or Comedians" in the Subject field and then "stand-up" in the "All Fields" (Keyword) slot.  And if you are focusing on an individual comedian, search the name, last name first, in the "Person" field.
     Above each set of articles you retrieve ProQuest will display related Subject searches to help either broaden or narrow your focus.
     User Advisory: ProQuest is fussy about entering Subject searches in the designated search slot. If your subject is a person, enter the name--last name first--in the "Person" slot; if a named group of any kind--Microsoft, the Catholic Church, Radiohead, the New York Mets--enter it in "Co/Org"; if a place enter it in "Location." 

     CQ Researcher  is a weekly publication from Congressional Quarterly. Each report examines a single issue relevant to American public policy, including health, criminal justice, internaional affairs, education, the environment, technology, and the economy. The non-partisan analysis always includes a "Background," "Current Situation," "Outlook," and "Pro/Con" section, as well as numerous charts and graphs of statistical data, maps, and a bibliography for further reading. 
Note the "Issue Tracker" and "Pro/Con" browsers on the left of the home page: these provide an excellent way to find or brainstorm a topic. 
     User Advisory: The archives here extend back to 1991, and since many of these topics are time-sensitive, keep an eye on dates as you scan the reports.

Where's the Full Text for this Article??

     Few databases offer 100% full text.  Most retrieve a mix of full text articles and article "citations"--article title, author(s), publication info, and usually an "abstract" or one-prargraph summary of the content.  When a citation makes you want the full text, look below it for this icon: 
     Clicking "GETIT" checks (almost all) the IC Library's other databases to see if any offers the full text of the article--or if the Library has a print subscription to the journal in which the article appeared. 

  • "GETIT" will usually find the full text in another database and open it in a new window.  
  • If none of our databases can access the full text but we have a print subsciption to the journal, "GETIT" will retrieve the Library catalog record for the journal so that you can see if the date of the article falls within the date range we have on hand.
  • If full text is not available from any database or from a print subsciption, "GETIT" will provide a link to the IC Library's Interlibrary Loan.  Log in (same as your IC e-mail)--and set up your account if you've never used it before.  "GETIT" will have populated the article request form with all the necessary information and you simply submit the request elecrtonically.  Most articles are supplied as digital files and will be sent to you via e-mail when they arrive.

Contact Us

picture of Dr. Brian Saunders

Dr. Brian Saunders

Humanities Librarian
(607) 274-1198

Search Argos

Web Resources


   For stand-up comedy, this is probably the single best Web resource: Watch clips of virtually all the leading stand-ups of the last 60 years.

Web Directories

     Web Directories differ from search engines like Google in that all the online resources have been selected and annotated by editors, thereby promising a higher degree of quality control.  

American Comedy Archives

American Comedy Archives: Emerson College has been conducting interviews with humorists and comedians since 2005. Some of which are available online in the form of transcripts and videos.  See transcripts, videos, and thematically grouped excerpts from the interviews.

A Priest & a Rabbi Walk into a Bar . . .

     For those of you researching the religious affiliations and practices of contemporary Americans, one of the best primary resources is the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Most of the articles on the subject merely repackage or comment on this data.

Citation Help

MLA Citation

MLA is the citation style used by most disciplines in the Humanities. Here is my guide to the latest (2016) update of the MLA style.