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The Layers of a Clown

from AMD Volume 3, Issue 2 (June 2017)
by Patrick Reilly
Drawing from a roughly five-year participant-observation study of stand-up comedians in Los Angeles, this paper investigates the career development of artists within cultural production industries. This paper introduces and defines the model of a layered career. In the case of stand-up comedy, individuals progressively move through three layers. Each exhibits its own distinctive organizational bases, core challenges, interactional processes, relationship types, and rewards. While development involves an individual matriculating through layers, it also requires artists to maintain their participation in prior layers, because each layer is ideally suited for different aspects of practice, creativity, and social support. Careers in these contexts involve building a durable infrastructure rather than a simple passage through discrete statuses. Furthermore, one’s career progress depends upon the formation of relationships, particularly tight mentorships and arm’s length endorsements. This paper ties the layered career model to cultural production industries wherein development typically involves informal institutions, decentralized organizations, the accumulation of tacit knowledge, and the cultivation of novel creative identities. This paper emphasizes the applicability of the layered career model to the study of artistic careers. It also suggests this framework’s wider implications for research into contingent and informal employment.

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