For Laura Allcorn, Jokes Aren’t Just Words They Can Be Physical Experiences

Allcorn isn’t a comedian, per se, but as an artist and designer, comedy is her preferred method for exploring an idea.

(courtesy of Laura Allcorn)

Laura Allcorn

Institute for Comedic Inquiry

Age: 36

What does she make? Comedic experiments where everyone gets to be in on the joke.

When Laura Allcorn makes a joke, she truly makes a joke.

Allcorn isn't a comedian, per se, but as an artist and designer, comedy is her preferred method for exploring an idea. And for her, jokes aren't just words on a page, or something said by someone onstage with a microphone—they can be physical experiences.

So in 2009, while attending grad school at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Allcorn created the Institute of Comedic Inquiry—an institution that exists pretty much entirely in her own head, but which has served as an outlet for a series of multidiscilpinary stunts, pranks and experiments she describes as "participatory satire."

(courtesy of Laura Allcorn)

"I was meandering around, trying to figure out the thing that binds my process and my work together," she says. "And what I arrived at was, I always want to incorporate humor, because I believe so deeply that it is one of the things that allows us to connect with each other, even around issues that make us uncomfortable."

In some cases, the subject is humor itself. For one project, Allcorn collected four years' worth of her own "laugh tears" and analyzed what situations and kind of jokes made her laugh the hardest. In 2018, a gallery in Dublin commissioned her to build a "syntHAsizer," a machine that can manipulate and "remix" a human laugh.

Other times, the focus is on the anxiety of modern life. Most recently, after reading about developing biotracking technology that can identify people based on their gait, Allcorn held a seminar "teaching" attendees how to change the way they move—a commentary on the erosion of privacy and the rise of the security state, as filtered through Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks.

(courtesy of Laura Allcorn)

"I'm trying to bring all these things into something that we all get to play in, because I'm really interested in everybody having some say over the future that they want," Allcorn says. "We can ask these questions and we can start thinking about what we want, and we don't have to just leave that all to the powers that be."


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