“Give Me the Seth Rogen Laugh”: This Is the End and Parafictional Persona

Abstract: This paper applies the theory of “parafictional persona” to Judd Apatow’s This Is the End (2012), positioning its ensemble cast as a key example of an increasingly common occurrence: actors and performers playing themselves in fictional media. It surveys the history of personalization in comedy media to chart how the practice of performers appearing in character while using their own real name coincides with the rise of social media technology and the new media ecology. By analyzing This Is the End and its cast of comedian-performers, I demonstrate how the interplay of real and fictional in parafictional media texts cause such texts to appear more recognizably a part of the real world of the audience. I also demonstrate how the same parafictional interplay can be intentionally subverted and exploited by savvy performers for comedic or narrative effect.

Read this article in the Popular Culture Studies Journal (open-access)

“Give Me the Seth Rogen Laugh”: This Is the End and Parafictional Persona

I’m very happy to report that my refereed article on parafictional persona, comedian comedy and This Is the End has just been published in the Popular Culture Studies Journal. It’s an open-access journal, so you can go and read it right now.

This piece grew out of an idle thought I had while watching the film, which I initially posted as a Letterboxd review in 2013 (currently sitting at three likes 🥳). Six years later, I saw that the PCSJ was calling for submissions for an undergraduate/postgraduate showcase special issue, so I decided to expand that nugget of an idea into a journal article. It’s been quite a journey.

While researching this piece for the PCSJ I fell into a bit of a parafictional persona rabbit-hole and realised how common the practice of comedian-performers using their real name in fictional contexts has become. I also noticed how many of my favourite comedy shows (The Larry Sanders Show, Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm) are fundamentally built on the exploitation of parafictional personas. Two weeks ago I submitted a proposal to study parafictional persona in film, television, podcasting and web media as a PhD.

If I’m accepted, will this be the first case of a Letterboxd review being adapted into a PhD?

My first conference: what I learned presenting an academic paper at #PopCAANZ19

Last week the Popular Culture Association of Australia and New Zealand (PopCAANZ) held its annual conference over three days in Melbourne, and there I presented my paper Friends with benefits: Neoliberalism and heteronormativity in the bromance film.

It was a very new, very nerve-wracking experience — but ultimately extremely rewarding. Prior to last week I had never even attended an academic conference, let alone presented a paper at one. In fact, I didn’t know Honours students could present at conferences — until I did it myself.

I thought my experiences might prove useful to others in a similar position, so here are some of the thoughts I took away from my time at PopCAANZ 2019.

Yes, it’s possible for an Honours student to present a paper at a conference

Some, perhaps most, conferences only accept submissions from established academics or PhD candidates, but there are some that also accommodate Honours students. I was fortunate that PopCAANZ took place this year at RMIT University, my home institution, and was convened by an RMIT staff member whom I felt comfortable asking whether they would accept an abstract submission from an Honours student. The answer was yes, and I was one of two students from my Honours cohort to present at PopCAANZ.

Presenting ended up being way less intimidating than I thought it would be. I was mercifully scheduled on a panel that took place in the conference’s smallest room, and I presented my paper to an audience of roughly a dozen people — small enough that I didn’t feel overwhelmed, but big enough to generate fruitful discussion. It was a great way to test the waters in a relatively low-stakes, extremely supportive environment, and get my head around the completely new and unfamiliar experience of attending a conference, presenting, fielding questions, and explaining my research.

If you’re an Honours student, I would recommend searching for relevant conferences and checking whether their CFP mentions that they accept Honours students. If it doesn’t say, just ask.

A conference paper probably won’t help your PhD application, but it doesn’t hurt to have it on your CV

In most Australian universities, for most purposes conference papers don’t count as research. They’re not peer-reviewed and they don’t have the same requirements for original contribution to knowledge as journal articles, book chapters and other forms of published research. Also, in the calculus used to decide which PhD or scholarship applications are successful, they’re generally worth either nothing or very little. So presenting at a conference won’t help your PhD application.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. I found the process remarkably rewarding and interesting for its own sake — once I got over my crippling fear of presenting, I was able to take in a diverse program of wonderful and interesting research from all over Australia and New Zealand. In years to come, when I begin applying for academic jobs, I’ll have a list of publications and conference papers stretching back to my Honours year that should reflect positively on my work ethic, level of expertise, and commitment as a researcher.

Presenting at a conference is a great way to develop your speaking skills

I’m not a natural public speaker. I get nervous, I can’t speak off the cuff, and I struggle to make eye contact with the audience. But one thing I’ve learned from presenting live radio is that the best thing — really, the only thing — you can do to improve your performance is to watch or listen back to yourself. After all, how can you possibly improve the experience for an audience if you don’t know what your performance is actually like for an audience?

At first it’s incredibly awkward and embarrassing to hear your own voice. You will cringe, you will hate it, you will hear every single one of your mistakes. But the first step towards fixing a mistake is identifying it, and by closely listening to yourself speak you can identify big and small problems in your performance before you stand up in front of an audience. Over the past few years I’ve listened to my voice so much that it just doesn’t feel awkward any more. I often record myself rehearsing a talk or in-class presentation before I deliver it, and tweak any unnatural phrasing, difficult passages and long sentences along the way. I’ve also found that I have a tendency to talk too fast when I get nervous, but now that I’ve heard and identified that issue I make a conscious effort to regulate my tempo when I speak, which makes me sound more natural, more authoritative and less nervous.

Conferences can — eek — introduce you to people

Let me be very clear: the idea of networking fills me with a crushing sense of dread. I, like many people, want absolutely nothing to do with anything even resembling networking. I also know, however, that every single advice article and blog post for students and early-career researchers says that it’s a necessary evil and a skill you must develop to have any chance at a career in academia. Whether you’re into networking or not, conferences are an objectively excellent way to build a profile, find your community and start acting like an academic.

Also on my panel at PopCAANZ was Dr. Nicholas Godfrey, a lecturer in screen media from Flinders University in Adelaide, presenting research on Barbra Streisand’s place in (or exclusion from) the Hollywood auteur canon. After our panel concluded, he came over and introduced himself and said that he would connect me with a PhD student of his whose topic area is closely related to my own. It was a small interaction, but it was nice to have a chat to someone about their research and I got a useful contact out of it.

So if you can, try to make the best of your attendance at a conference by striking up a conversation with someone new. Or, hey, don’t do anything and maybe someone will come up to you and do all the work for you. Thanks, Nicholas!

Papers can help clarify your research or develop ideas

My paper developed out of an undergraduate cinema studies essay I wrote last year, which I practically threw out of my mental filing cabinet immediately after submission. But I’m glad that I was able to rescue the idea and turn it into a conference presentation, because I’m now considering the option of developing it further into a journal article or video essay.

My friend and Honours classmate Sam Harris used his paper — on post-cinematic affect and the glitch in the Unfriended films — to work through some of the fundamental theoretical aspects of his Honours thesis. For him it’s a win-win: the work he’s been doing to prepare his thesis helped make a great conference paper, and the feedback and discussion he received after presenting it will help clarify his thinking and can be fed back into his thesis.

Having to synthesise and deliver your research in an easily digestible form to an unfamiliar audience is invaluable. It helps clarify your ideas and forces you to consider how your research will be understood by an audience. Plus, the work you do could be preparing you for future publication.

If you have any tips for presenting at a conference, hit me up on Twitter.

The Glasshouse (Music Fill) – 2 January 2019, RRR

Listen back to this episode on the RRR website


Kirkis – “Freak Club” (Kirkis 2)
Nakhane – “Interloper” (You Will Not Die)
Clypso (feat. Kwame) – “Middle Ground”
Junko Ohashi – “Dancin'” (Tokyo Nights: Female J-Pop Boogie Funk 1981-1988)
Nonobstant – “Jessica” (Uneven Paths: Deviant Pop from Europe)
Ibrahim El Kashif – “Where Is My Sweetheart?” (Two Niles to Sing a Melody: The Violins & Synths of Sudan)
Joe Flint – “Sorry” (A View from Mount Seldom)
Sampa the Great – “Rhymes to the East” (Birds and the BEE9)
Petite Noir (feat. Danny Brown & Nukubi Nukubi) – “Beach” (La Maison Noire / The Black House)
IDLES – “Love Song” (Joy As an Act of Resistence.)
Parquet Courts – “Violence” (Wide Awake!)
Moaning Lisa – “Good” (Do You Know Enough?)
Junko Ohashi – “I Love You So”

Room with a View – 1 October 2018, RRR

Presented by: Bradley Dixon & Rosie Pavlovic

On today’s show: Anthony Kelly from Melbourne Activist Legal Support joins us in the studio to discuss Legal Observers, people who attend rallies and protests to document police misconduct.

Also, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Tasmania, David Coady, phones in to discuss conspiracy theories, and why the term might actually be unhelpful in modern discourse.

Listen back to this episode on the RRR website

Soundscape: Liep Gony memorial

I went to the Liep Gony memorial walk at Parliament House today. It was incredibly moving to watch a community of people come together in a time of sadness, frustration and disappointment, and speak with such positivity to a government and society that has treated them with nothing but disdain.

They walked and sang choir songs, screamed and broke down, pleaded for an end to racial violence. It was brutal, and beautiful.

I made a little soundscape of my journey down to the steps of Parliament from RMIT, and some of the choir songs the memorial crowd were singing on their walk.

Room with a View – 16 July 2018, RRR

Presented by: Bradley Dixon & Rosie Pavlovic

On today’s show: Footscray Rubbish Runners are a social running group based around the Maribyrnong River that picks up litter as they run (or walk!). For more information visit @footscrayrubbishrunners on Instagram.

Claire Harris is a social entrepreneur and co-founder of the eco-glitter company Space Vivian. Claire discusses the phasing out of single-use plastics in Victoria, the scourge of plastic waste to marine life around the world and how you can reduce your plastic footprint.

Listen back to this episode on the RRR website | View the playlist

She Drives | Short Film

Elizabeth became a taxi driver in the 1980s, Marz started driving for Uber in the 2010s. Though separated by a generation, these two women share more than just a job.

Produced, Directed & Edited By: Alice Fairweather, Anna Miers, Bradley Dixon, Izzi Hally & Zitni Putriadi
Cinematography: Anna Miers, Izzi Hally & Zitni Putriadi
Sound: Bradley Dixon
Supervising Producer: Rohan Spong