University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Katelyn Hale Wood

Associate Professor in Theatre History, Department of Drama


Cracking Up: Black Feminist Stand-Up Comedy in 20th and 21st Century USA

Cracking Up archives and analyzes how Black feminist comedians assert freedom and citizenship in the United States through joke-telling. I argue that Black feminist comedic performance and the laughter it ignites are vital components of feminist, queer, and anti-racist protest. Through archival research and performance analysis, I study Black women stand-up comedians from the United States, including Jackie Mabley, Wanda Sykes, Mo’Nique, Sasheer Zamata, Sam Jay, Amanda Seales, and Michelle Buteau. These comics centralize the joke as a pathway towards social critique, and embody unapologetic Black feminist expression. From the comedy routines popular on Black vaudeville circuits to the present, this book excavates an overlooked history of Black women who made the art of joke-telling a mode of radical performance and political engagement. I interpret these artists not as tokens in their white/male dominated fields, but as part of a continuous history of Black feminist affirmations of presence and power in myriad United States cultural contexts.


Katelyn Hale Wood is a performance studies scholar and theatre historian whose research engages the intersections of critical race and queer theory, gender studies, and 20th/21st century comedic performance. Her first book project, CrackingUp: Black Feminist Comedic Performance in 20th and 21st Century USA, argues how the work of Black feminist stand-up comedians have played vital roles in queer, feminist, and anti-racist community building. Her writing has been published in Theatre Topics, QED: A Journal in GLTBQ Worldmaking, and Departures in Critical Qualitative Research, and has also been supported by the American Society for Theatre Research and the National Center for Institutional Diversity. 

At UVA, Wood teaches courses in theatre history, performance theory, as well as interdisciplinary topics, such as race and performance in the Americas, queer and feminist performance in the U.S., and comedy as protest.