Susan Seizer

Women with Swords, Women with Guns: Fierce Funny Women in South India and the U.S.

In “Women with Swords, Women with Guns,” Professor Seizer presents and analyzes two quite
different performances by women on the comedy stage. Her examples are drawn from North
American and South Indian live performance contexts. Their analysis opens up into a much
larger comparative discussion of both the practical and cosmological dimensions of women’s
lives in the U.S. and Asia. The aim of the paper is to argue for the importance of attending to
cultural specificity — a linchpin of humor — at a time when violent global flows and their
attendant worldwide woes threaten to lock us into ways of thinking and seeing that overlook our capacity for reflexivity. Recognizing differences amongst ourselves should instead be a means of us keeping us humble and humane. Seizer argues that it behooves us to pay attention to the cultural specificities of humor, a pleasurable way to learn about worlds we might not otherwise imagine.

Professor Seizer (Ph.D. Anthropology 1997, University of Chicago) joined the faculty at Indiana
University in 2006. Her research and teaching interests include: Humor in Use, Stigma &
Subjectivity, South Asia through Performance, Queer Ethnographic Narrative, and Disability
Studies. Her recent book, Stigmas of the Tamil Stage: An Ethnography of Special Drama Artists in South India (Duke University Press 2005), focuses on the lives of Tamil popular theater artists onstage and off. Prior to beginning her academic career, Professor Seizer was a performer of dance, theater, and circus. Many of her scholarly interests follow threads she first explored as a performer: improvisation; the way comedy can be used to do just about anything; and the particular exhilaration many women find in transgressing normative gender roles through public performance. Professor Seizer has published in journals as diverse as Public Culture, American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology, Transition, Heresies, and Indian Folklife. You can visit her website at