Beyond a Joke pp 180-197 | Cite as

The Ambiguities of Comic Impersonation

  • Michael Pickering
  • Sharon Lockyer


Impersonation is an ambiguous term. It can be viewed positively, as for instance when we say of a certain act that it is a good impersonation or when we regard a certain comedian as an effective impersonator. It can also be viewed negatively, so drawing on other meanings of the word. This happens when we use it in its associations with imposture, duplicity, fabrication and fraudulent practice. The word impersonator is then more or less equivalent to the old-fashioned, but still effective description of someone as a mountebank or quack. The description makes us think of falseness, trickery and manipulation. By implication it carries the accusation of cheating or being a cheat. The accused stands indicted of having usurped someone else’s role or identity for an underhand purpose. The negative connotations attached to the term do not usually apply to the profession of acting or comedy, for then impersonation generally has a positive sense, with the label of impersonator as comic entertainer being regarded as wholly legitimate, but it would certainly carry at least some of these connotations if we regard a particular comic impersonator as trading on a demeaning or derogatory stereotype, whether of gender, ethnicity or some other social category. The term would then be one of ethical criticism, involving a negative evaluation of the impersonation.


Black People Comic Impersonation Television Audience Celebrity Status Comic Frame 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Michael Pickering and Sharon Lockyer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Pickering
  • Sharon Lockyer

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