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experience in a 5-minute session. On the other hand, the stripping away of identifying

characteristics is freeing on a personal level as well, and may be desirable beyond its usefulness

as a stage persona. Given that these personas are seemingly necessary to function in the comedy

scene, they could even be understood as a kind of habitus, after Bourdieu (1990). This

assemblage of attitudes, patterns of speech and behavior is useful when it comes to getting

laughs- but it is also the key to social integration with the other members of the scene; something

which my informants consistently refer to as a major objective within their careers.

What makes this arrangement interesting is not merely that my subjects seem to live in a

liminal space between youth and “adulthood.” Rather, what interests me is the apparent effort to

strain the boundaries of traditional liminality. I have said that liminality excludes people from

social expectations. This is true, except of course for the expectation that one will emerge from

their liminal condition. In the original context in which the concept of liminality was used,

describing rites of passage, a person either emerges successfully at a higher social standing than

before, or fails and returns in shame to their lower rank. I posit that the pattern of behavior I

observe in the comedy scene represents a kind of rebellion against the directional nature of


In brief, liminality is bounded both socially and temporally. Socially, a liminal person is

neither the person they were when they stepped out of society, nor the person they are intended

to become when they return. Temporally, liminality begins when the person leaves, but by

definition they are scheduled to return at some point in the future. One cannot enter a state of

passage (and indeed Turner calls such people “passengers”) without a destination. The 35-year

old banker with stable employment and a young family, who performs jokes about smoking pot

and meandering aimlessly through life is performing a kind of liminality without normal

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