In A Laughable Empire, Todd Thompson locates American comedy about Pacific Islanders in the archives of nineteenth-century periodicals and offers analysis of what attitudes these jokes convey. The book thus develops a compelling response to Judith Yaross Lee’s call for scholars to explore the relation between humor and imperialism by arguing that comedy is “contact” (7) and that these jokes both served and resisted US expansion in the Pacific (10). As Thompson admits, the category of Pacific Islanders that he deploys is incredibly broad and risks flattening differences among peoples within it. In keeping with his attention to making both ethical and nuanced claims throughout, he examines when comedy centers more specifically on Hawaiians or Fijians. Yet because nineteenth-century periodicals often treat Pacific Islanders as interchangeable, he argues that analyzing depictions of these disparate peoples together elucidates US American perceptions of them. Thompson’s “contextualized close readings” explore how individual...

You do not currently have access to this content.