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Analyzing American Comedy in the 20th & 21st Centuries: Primary Sources

Comedy can be utilized to study many political and social currents throughout U.S. history. This guide will introduce you to numerous topics in comedy, as well as offer tips in continuing your own research.


As comedy creates artistic outputs including live performances, television shows, scripts, and photographs there are many primary sources available. Focusing on these sources helps a research paper be original and evidenced based. On this page you will find a few different resources to find primary sources about comedy, as well as resources to aid your understanding of how to find and use primary sources in your paper.

Archival Resources

Emerson College. American Comedy Archives. Emerson College Archives & Special Collections.

  • This archival collection features a multitude of primary sources, with a particular focus on personal papers for a variety of significant figures including Henry Winkler, Fred Willard, and Sid Caesar. The repository also contains a collection of over 60 oral histories from more contemporary figures. It should be noted that these collections are difficult to navigate if you are not already sure which subject you are interested in.

Navaroli, J. (2020). SNL Archives. SNL Archives.

  • This unofficial archive offers a wealth of information and media from the 45 (as of 2020) year run "Saturday Night Live!" The website features a full site search box as well as cast lists, character lists, episode and sketch details, and guest information. This resource would be helpful to confirm that a figure was on SNL, and to find more information about their appearance. Searching by cast member, for example, could allow you to compare the number of seasons, characters, and impressions performed. 

Scott, J. (2020, December 14). The World Famous Comedy Store: Archives. Facebook.

  • The Comedy Store in Los Angeles has acted as a central location for the LA comedy scene since 1972. An overview of the history of the store can be found at this link - This facebook page serves as the archives for the store, and is maintained by The Comedy Store historian/archivist and house pianist Jeff Scott. Scott frequently posts photos, videos, and ephemera from the over 50 year history of the store. This resource would serve as a particularly fitting next step after reading I'm Dying Up Here from the previous page.

National Comedy Center. (2020). The Archives. Comedy Center.

  • The National Comedy Center holds archival collections spanning a wide range of comedy history and formats of primary resources, from annotated scripts to scrapbooks and props. The Center notes that it is "the United States' congressionally-designated repository for comedy artifacts," and lists archival partners including The Library of Congress and Warner Brothers Archive. It should be noted that the majority of the center's archival collections are not immediately available online, and an appointment may be needed.

Selections from The Comedy Store Archives

Research Spotlight

In many disciplines, especially those that do not rely on studies and surveys, primary sources offer direct tools to create original arguments and research. Primary sources offer an invaluable look at historic events.

Instructional and Research Services Committee of the Reference and User Services History Section in the American Library Association. (2015, January 12). Primary Sources on the Web: Finding, evaluating, using. RUSA.

GW Libraries. (2020, October 12). Databases: American Studies: American Studies Databases. George Washington University Research Guides.