PhD defence Dick Zijp: The Dutch Comedian is often a ‘Progressive Rebel’, Right?

Cover promotie Dick Zijp: Dick Zijp afgebeeld met vier demonstranten die spandoeken vasthouden met de tekst 'Comedians without a Cause'. © Titia Hoogendoorn
© Titia Hoogendoorn

On 15 February, Dick Zijp will defend his thesis ‘Comedians without a Cause: The Politics and Aesthetics of Humour in Dutch Cabaret (1966-2020)’. To understand the shifting meanings and political implications of humour within a Dutch context, Zijp examines the political and aesthetic workings of humour in the highly popular Dutch cabaret genre, focusing on cabaret performances from the 1960s to the present.

Cabaret and debate

Comedians play an important role in society and public debate. In recent years in particular, comedy has become increasingly ‘politicised’: humour has taken centre stage in political and social debates around issues of identity, social justice, and freedom of speech.

In his thesis, Zijp examines the questions of how comedians use humour to deliver social critique and how their humour resonates with political ideologies.

‘Progressive rebels’ – but are they?

From the 1960s onwards, Dutch comedians have been considered ‘progressive rebels’ – politically engaged, subversive, and carrying a left-wing political agenda. This image is in need of correction, Zijp argues. While we tend to look for progressive political messages in the work of comedians who present themselves as being anti-establishment rebels, such as Youp van ‘t Hek, Hans Teeuwen, and Theo Maassen, their transgressive and provocative humour tends to protect social hierarchies and relationships of power.

Paradoxically, Zijp shows, both the deliberately moderate and nuanced humour of Wim Kan and Claudia de Breij, and the seemingly past-oriented nostalgia of Alex Klaassen, are surprisingly more radical and progressive. Finally, comedians who present absurdist or deconstructionist forms of humour, such as the early student cabarets, Freek de Jonge, and Micha Wertheim, tend to disassociate themselves from an explicit political engagement.

Today, humour is still not always taken seriously, Zijp writes. With his thesis, he hopes to contribute to a better understanding of humour. Humour, he concludes, is often still, wrongly, celebrated as being merely pleasurable, innocent, or progressively liberating. In doing so, the ‘dark’ and more conservative sides of humour tend to get obscured.

Start date and time
End date and time
Hybrid: online (click here) and at the Utrecht University Hall
PhD candidate
Dick Zijp
Comedians without a Cause: The Politics and Aesthetics of Humour in Dutch Cabaret (1966-2020)
PhD supervisor(s)
Professor M.A. Bleeker
Professor G. Kuipers
More information
Full text via Utrecht University Repository