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Dr Matthew Hilborn

PhD Student

BA Hons (Oxon), MA by Research (Dunelm), PhD (Dunelm)

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PhD Student in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures  


- PhD, Durham University
funded by AHRC Northern Bridge Doctoral Partnership

- MA by Research, Durham University
funded by Durham MA Faculty Scholarship

- BA (1st-Class Hons, Distinction), Oxford University
funded by Dolores Orla Merino Prize, Abbot Fund, & Benefactor's Prize


¡Hola a todos/as! My AHRC-funded PhD thesis, completed in February 2022, explores the interrelationship between Humour Theory and contemporary Spanish culture (literature and film). Entitled 'Side-Splitting: Humour and National Identity in Contemporary Spanish Cinema' (2022), the project analyses zones of traversal between comedy and 'Spanishness' through the prisms of evolving gender-roles, masculinities, national identities, conceptions of family, and shifting concepts of patriotic (anti)heroism.

My study seeks to trace 'moments', movements, and sagas in contemporary Spanish humour from 1970 to 2020: a half-century of ubiquity, evolution, contradiction, and political impact. Evaluating comedic developments from the decline and death of Franco (1975) after almost 40 years at the helm, to the fragile liberal compromise (Transition), right up to present-day pushes for independence and a far-right backlash, I investigate how overtly 'national' humour, explicitly depicting homeland idiosyncrasies and deficiencies, variously mirrors, shapes, mollifies and intensifies sociopolitical anxieties.

Seven chapters cover comedy's response to pivotal historical moments, including late-Francoism, desarrollismo, desencanto, Movida, Spain's entry into Europe, clashes between 2000s Aznarismo (centralised, castizo 'Spanishness') and mounting immigration, post-ETA trauma, separatist anxieties, and party-political fragmentation. Problematising the very notion of the ‘nation(al)’ in case-studies from Luis García Berlanga, Juan Antonio Bardem (1970-1977), ‘early’ Pedro Almodóvar (1980- 1984), Bigas Luna (the ‘Iberian Trilogy’, 1992-1994), Álex de la Iglesia (Muertos de risa/Dying of Laughter, 1999), Santiago Segura (Torrente, 1998-2014), Emilio Martínez- Lázaro (the Apellidos/’Spanish Affair’ saga, 2014-15), and Javier Ruiz Caldera (Superlópez, 2018), I scrutinise the widespread supposition of a characteristically Spanish – or self- consciously, self-mockingly “Spanish” – humour, reconfigured and hyperbolised both domestically and for international spectators, fabricating the mutable ‘Spanish look’.


My Masters thesis, 'Humour in the Postwar Spanish Social Realist Novel' (2017), locates an undercurrent of bleak, dark humour in novels frequently pigeonholed as dispassionate, solemn, and sombre. I interrogated how comedy affects the representation of social conditions (and the reception of such representations), coining new ways of understanding bathetic, grim comedy: grey humour, a sluggish amusement originating fundamentally, and paradoxically, in boredom; and comic-kazi, a backfiring, debilitating, anti-comic funniness, based on privation. 


I have developed extensive teaching experience at Durham University, on four separate Hispanic Studies modules (both peninsular and Latin American), and regularly deliver induction lectures to all university PGR students.

Since completing my doctorate, I have been working as Spanish and Debating teacher with The Noisy Classroom (London), as well as translating and proofreading theses and book chapters for bilingual editing service 

Research interests

  • Humour Theory
  • Contemporary Spanish Cinema
  • Film Studies
  • Film Comedy
  • National Humours

Esteem Indicators

  • 2021: AHGBI Conference Award - Best Paper, Annual Conference, University College Dublin:
  • 2018: (to 2020) - Full AHRC Research Grants, Cinematography Course - Universidad de Valladolid:
  • 2017: AHRC Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Centre Partnership:
  • 2016: MA Research Scholarship, Modern Languages and Cultures - Durham University:
  • 2015: Benefactor's Prize for Academic Achievement - Oxford University:
  • 2015: Dolores Oria Merino Prize - Highest Grade in FHS Spanish - Oxford University:
  • 2013: Abbott's Bursary - Oxford University:


Conference Paper

  • (2022), "Holding out for a (Spanish!?) Superhero: 'Superlópez' (dir. Javier Ruiz Caldera, 2018)", AHGBI (Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Institute of Modern Languages Research, Senate House, London.
  • (2021), "España entra en el Año Nuevo a tiro limpio’. Metacomedy in Álex de la Iglesia’s "Muertos de risa" (1999)", AHGBI (Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland) Annual Conference. University College Dublin. March 29-31, 2021.
  • (2019), "Bridging the Gap: Humour in "El Puente" (Juan Antonio Bardem, 1977)", AGBHI Conference. Durham University. April 8-10, 2019.
  • (2018), "Superheroes in Times of Crisis: 'Superlópez' (Javier Ruiz Caldera, 2018)", Early Career Researcher Conference. Catedra de Cine, Valladolid.
  • (2018), "Dolor y Gloria: Ambiguous Irony in Almodóvar's "Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto?" (1984)", Symposium of the International Summer School on Humour and Laughter: Theory, Research and Applications. University of Wolverhampton, UK. July 2-7, 2018.
  • (2018), "Pedro Almodóvar: The King of Kitsch?", Broaderlands Postgraduate Research Symposium. St John's College, Durham University. April 19, 2018.

Journal Article

  • (2021). "Grey Humour: The Comedy of Tedium in Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio's El Jarama (1955)". Bulletin of Spanish Studes

Other (Digital/Visual Media)

  • Hilborn, Matthew (2019). "A pesar de todo, hubo algo cómico en aquello": Humour in the Postwar Spanish Social Realist Novel. 1-232.