Meta Humour in the 1950s Sitcom: Parafiction and Self-Reflexivity in The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show

Type: Journal article, Peer reviewed

Status: Accepted/Forthcoming

Publication: New Review of Film & Television Studies

Abstract: Scholars of television in the United States have noted an undercurrent of self-reflexivity in the early sitcom, typically understood as techniques that call attention to the medium’s artifice and the apparatus of television itself. However, one aspect of self-reflexivity in early television sitcom that warrants deeper analysis is the use of parafiction, or the deliberate blurring of the boundary between reality and artifice. The show that most greatly exemplifies the use of parafiction in early television is The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (1950–1958), in which Burns and Allen play themselves as a pair of married entertainers. The show borrows heavily from their real lives, makes frequent reference to their careers, and further calls attention to its self-reflexivity through a narrative device that sees Burns’ character literally step out of the set and address the home audience directly. Burns and Allen maintained elaborate parafictional personas that inflected their public image throughout their lives, and the extent to which they broke down the division between truth and fiction in their lives and work makes George Burns and Gracie Allen perhaps the earliest and most significant practitioners of parafictional persona in American screen comedy.