Buster Keaton, A Funny Man

Plan Author

  • Erika Klemperer, 2015

Fields of Concentration

Sample Courses

  • Course: Physical Theater: The Language of the Body
  • Course: Choreography
  • Tutorial: Humor in Performance Movement
  • Tutorial: Choreography Plan Seminar

Project Description

A self-choreographed dance performance exploring the definition and boundaries of humor

Faculty Sponsors

Outside Evaluator

    • Cynthia McLaughlin, Keene State College


This Plan is a study of humor found in Western culture through dance, visual art, and gender, as well as a written exploration of Buster Keaton’s stage persona through the lenses of gender and humor. It involved an evening of dance and other performances titled “Slapdash Sophisticated Doozy,” which included a Buster-esque physical comedy performance in situ in the dining hall, an ethereal immersion in a dark common room populated with glowing, animated fish, flowers, combs, and jellies, and a series of dance and other performance pieces in the dance studio. Humor became a large factor in these projects because, like art and gender, it is something that can be both powerful and light, allowing me to sneak up on important matters without feeling intimidated. In the accompanying paper, I demonstrate how actor and film director “Buster” Keaton explores and defines the masculinity of his character by choosing to adopt, avoid, compare or contrast traits of other characters and his surroundings in a humorous fashion.


Keaton’s ability to borrow from so many identities while maintaining the personality of his own character, allows for a versatile exploration, discovery and definition of the ultimate form of masculinity. In the United States, both in Keaton’s time and today, our society’s most favored persons seem to include the following traits: white, male, heterosexual, cisgendered, middle class and old enough to have surpassed boyhood, but not yet a codger. Delving deeper, it has been discovered that this coveted form of masculinity is based more upon what marginalized members of society are not rather than what it is. While there are lists of masculine traits such as Hanna’s Sex-Related Traits in America, men are constantly having to prove their masculinity by abiding the “don’ts” as society puts emphasis on phrases such as “don’t cry,” “don’t feel,” and “don’t ask for help.” The idea is that women cry, feel, and ask for help, so in an attempt to distinguish oneself as a man, these things must be avoided and masculinity must be ciphered by the opposite of such requests. It is a constant “test” to prove oneself as a man and avoid behaviors of the Other. Keaton provides a fascinating example of someone who uses borrowed identities to explore the traits that do exist within that definition of favored manhood and push its boundaries.


My performance at the end of the year was my opportunity to really go wild and take chances on a large scale, with so many resources at my fingertips.  Because I like to make, I got to do 80 percent of my Plan in one show of art installations and choreography. I was inspired by the permission Marlboro gave me to really cut loose.  At my previous colleges, I was discouraged from ideas that did not conform to a mainstream line of thought. Here, I am celebrated for them. After putting on a Plan production, I have decided to make it my goal to start a dance company or retreat.

My tutorial with Kristin Horrigan helped me to organize and write my Plan paper on the gender of Buster Keaton’s stage persona as well as brainstorm about the organization of my Plan show and learn what practical steps to take in order to keep the process running smoothly. In addition, we discussed ways of coping with large amounts of work on a personal level and how to maintain a healthy and happy lifestyle during such a busy time.