Category Archives: public spaces

Columbia College degree in Comedy Writing and Performance Announces National Search for Two Positions

Anne Libera

 

Columbia College Chicago is hiring two full time lecturer positions to serve its rapidly growing B.A. in Comedy Writing and Performing.

The degree is the only one of its kind in the United ecoetates and had its beginnings in 2007 in a partnership between Columbia College Chicago and The Second City. The Comedy Studies semester provides a semester abroad style program in which students come to Chicago and study comic acting, improvisation, sketch and solo writing, comedy history, and physical and vocal prep for comedy. All courses in the semester are held at The Second City’s historic location on Wells Street in Chicago.

Alumni of the Comedy Studies semester include SNL’s Aidy Bryant, performers for Second City’s resident and touring companies, writers for The Onion as well as network, cable, and Netflix television shows as well as numerous regularly performing stand-up, improv, and sketch comedians, as well as at least one ordained minister.

The B.A. in Comedy Writing and Performing enters its third year in  2015-2016 with an estimated 200 majors. This interdisciplinary degree is housed within the Columbia College Theatre department and builds on the philosophy of the Comedy Studies semester; successful comedians require training and experience as writers, performers, directors, and producers across media. In addition to the semester at The Second City, major requirements include foundation work in theatrical principles and acting, comedy specific training in theory and practice, as well as coursework in television and self-management and freelancing.

Job descriptions for the two positions are listed below. If you have questions about the positions or about the program in general please feel free to contact Program Coordinator and Director of Comedy Studies, Anne Libera at ALibera@colum.edu.


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Spectaculum Horribilis

Vacations are meant to be relaxing. Swim, sun, cook, drink, rinse, repeat. Due to personal and professional deadlines my vacation went more like: clean, trash, write, apply, review, request an extension. Between submitting for publication, looking for new employment, refinancing the house, and running an amateur wrestling clinic for small children out of my living room, I found enough time to scribble a few thoughts on humor, drink unwatered whiskey, and beg for a quick death between the hours of 11pm and midnight before it all began again the following day.

Few and far between do I ever find the emancipated evening, like my pass to the local class on voice acting I mentioned last time. If you’re the type to follow links in an online article like E. T. tracking Reese’s Pieces (timely I know), then your detective work discovered my town of residence. Salem, MASS. There are a lot of Salems in the United States, but only ours burned witches so their descendants could sell cheap gimcracks that turn tragedy into novelty. History is ripe for humor, and when that humor becomes routine, the resulting tradition can be called horrible.

Or rather, Horribles. The Ancient and Horribles Parade is a fading New England tradition that sounds a lot like a lottery in Shirley Jackson literature. “We’ve always had a parade!” some old codger mutters before throwing a rock at the chosen sacrifice. Similarly, the parade stretches back into forgotten memory, where many claim its origin but no one really knows when exactly. But they do know what and how. Usually on or around July 4, a community informally gathers to lampoon people in the public eye as a supplement to the formal celebrations sponsored by the government on our day of independence. Like Gerrymandering, the North Shore above Boston also made the event a political device, “whereby the speaker argues against taking a certain course of action by listing a number of extremely undesirable events which will ostensibly result from the action.” But why speak of politics when it can be satirized?

I live in the left leg

I live in the left leg

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What is Not Funny: Using Surveys in Teaching Humor

Teaching American Humor

It’s just a joke. I was only joking. Can’t you take a joke?

In an earlier post, I discussed how I have used opinion surveys as a way for students to examine their own tastes in humor and as a way to introduce humor as a vibrant and crucial component of American culture.  In the first part of the surveys, students name their favorite films and television shows and classify their tastes. I have found it is a useful way to establish a context for discussion of theoretical concepts in humor while also getting students to open up about their expectations for the course. Here is a link to that post, “What is Funny: Using Surveys in Teaching Humor“.

In the second part of the survey, students must address the potential complications to their enjoyment of humor. What if the person next to them not only doesn’t share their sense of humor but finds it offensive? When is a joke not a joke but an attack? And even if that “joke” is a veiled attack, should it be silenced? These are complicated issues and demand much more space (and brain power) than I can offer here, but no class on humor can rightly avoid the ever-present tension concerning differing opinions on what is and what is not funny.

Steve Brykman recently posted an excellent discussion concerning social and political challenges inherent in this issue. The underlying violence associated with much of American humor becomes especially troublesome when the humor concerns political figures, in particular the President of the United States. The post, “Is a Joke a Joke?,” can provide an astute and perfectly concise introduction for students who must consider the potential power of humor not only to the change the world but also blow it up. A joke can be provocative, but what if it is more accurately described as incendiary speech? Here is a link to Steve’s post.

As a way to force a potentially tense discussion, I use the survey to ask students to address this issue so that initially they can provide comments anonymously.  They must answer the following two paired questions. In each case, I provide a list, but they are also encouraged to add items if they see fit to do so:

1. What subject matter is off-limits for humor with you personally if someone is kidding with you? (Circle as many, or as few, as you wish)

Your mother

Your religion

Your gender

Your race

Your sexual orientation

Your body (height, weight, etc.)

Your disabilities or challenges

2.  What subject matter is off-limits for humor socially when the audience is public? (Circle as many, or as few, as you wish)

mothers

religions

genders

races

sexual orientations

bodies (height, weight, etc.)

disabilities or challenges

deaths and/or tragedies affecting real people

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It Takes All Kinds

You can tell it’s the flu season.  DayQuil is flying off the shelves like it has wings, and suddenly people are acting with this incredible generosity — sharing their bodily fluids with us all in arching streams of flying globules every time they sneeze or cough.  True altruists, they make no effort to hoard their treasures or block our access to them,  coughing uninhibited by hand or arm, sneezing as though it were an Olympic event, going for the glory in maximum volume, distance and splatter area.

You know who I mean.

You hear them before you see them, and they seem to especially love the grocery store at this time of year, wandering among the fresh fruit and vegetables, spreading the love and touching every piece of produce.  Though you shouldn’t get your hopes up too high:  since they never seem to wipe their noses except on their sleeves, their hands are probably remarkably clean.

Now I’m not talking about the folks who selfishly hoard their fluids, clutching their wadded-up tissues or grabbing at paper towels provided in the produce or meat sections; I’m not talking about those hoarders who buy a fresh box of tissues just to be able to open it now, or who furtively cough into their hand, down into the neck of their sweater, or into the crook of their arm, as though they’re trying to keep it secret from the rest of us.  I don’t know what ‘s up with these people; their mothers must not have taught them right — they don’t know the first thing about sharing.

No, I’m talking about those generous souls who want to make sure that we all get a piece of the action.  They never pick unless they flick — or wipe thoughtfully on the underside of handles, giving all who come behind them the thrill of that unexpected encounter with riches.

You know who you are.

There was this especially openhearted soul in the grocery store the other day.  Continue reading →

Stand-Up Sunday: Hollywood Comedy Clubs

The comic space is crucial. Stand-up comedy grew up in establishments of almost uncomfortable intimacy, and on a recent trip to Los Angeles, I was reminded of just how close together the Hollywood comedy establishments are.

A. Largo has been at its current La Cienega Boulevard location since 2008 and hosts both musicians and comedians in an intimate 280-seat theater. It’s an insider establishment – the kind of venue where Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez will go for a date night. I was there to see Sarah Silverman & Friends perform on a Thursday night, and after a full ninety minutes, Silverman introduced her “surprise guest from across the Atlantic” – Russell Brand. It’s all very Hollywood.

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Let’s all laugh at: The Olympics!

Tracy Wuster

Like all red-blooded Americans, I loves me some Olympics.  I will have a hard time getting work done over the next couple weeks with six stations of Olympics (+ streaming).  And the fact that my TV information calls it the “XXX Summer Olympics” makes it even better (in a 14-year old funny sort of way).  Speaking of TV, NBC quickly admits it is horrible and offers a solution.

General Olympic Humor

Some Olympic stand-up

Jerry Seinfeld

Rob Cantrell

olympics london 2012 uniform cartoon funny humor jokes comedy

Anthony Salame

The Space Olympics–Totally Cancelled

Sochi 2014 (the Problem-Free Russian Winter Olympics):

*the Olympics have become the focal point of anti-Putin satire.

*the problems with venues and accommodations have spawned a twitter account (or two).

*Saturday Night Live on figure skating.

*Buddy Cole on Russia (from Colbert Report)

*political cartoons (do you see any themes?)

political cartoons on sochi russia olympics 2014 putin security terrorism gay rights homosexuality 6a00d8341c90b153ef019b04308b2a970d-500wi 85 copy 2 85 copy 85 PutinOlympics 142548_600 142606_600 142685_600 143321_600 143910_600 bilde Putin Downhill MB1Jq8JuTt29kuAd_E2_fQ sochi-olympics-cartoon600px sochi1 Putin's Russia Jeff Koterba cartoon for December 31, 2013 "Russia Olympics"

See below for London!

85 022214coletoon sochi_in_the_shadow_of_ukraine_2183845 pussy-riot-attacked-sochi-olympics

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Press or Pass: The Unfunny Closing of the University of Missouri Press

Tracy Wuster

Update:  As of October, the decision to close the Press has been reversed and Clair Willcox has been rehired.  The concerted efforts of many people helped convince the bigwigs at Mizzou to reverse course, even if they won’t fully admit their mistakes.  I will be publishing my book with the press, if it is approved, of course.   To follow the situation, go here:  https://www.facebook.com/SaveTheUniversityOfMissouriPress.  I have added a new cartoon below.

Another update: in November, 2015, Wolfe has resigned due to his handling of a number of incidents concerning racism.  In a twist, considering the satire on Wolfe below, the final straw seems to have been the announcement that many members of the football team would be on strike until Wolfe left.  In another, more personal, twist, I received my page proofs for Mark Twain: American Humorist from the University of Missouri Press on Saturday night.

This summer has had something of a dark cloud hanging over it.  In June I arrived in San Francisco for the American Literature Association conference, excited for the conference, for a short vacation, and for the chance to get back to Austin to get to work on my book.  Tentatively titled “The Great American Humorist: The Making and Meanings of Mark Twain,” the book was/is under advance contract with The University of Missouri Press for inclusion in the “Mark Twain and His Circle Series.”  I was scheduled to get the press a revised draft by July 1.

On the first day of ALA, I learned of the decision of the UM system’s new president, Tim Wolfe, to shut down the press, a decision he made without consulting any of the press’s employees or, it appears, any faculty at the four campuses of the UM system.

Many have noted that the subsidy for the press was pulled at the same time as the university announced a $200 million plan to upgrade athletic facilities.  As part of the justification for closing the press was that it did not fit into the core mission of the university, many have wondered if the core mission of many universities is football (often with tragic results).  And while sports can play a necessary and positive role in higher education, the prioritization of sports over academics can be seen as part of a larger view of colleges as businesses rather than as colleges.

For more information, see the “Save the University of Missouri Press” Facebook page.

Please sign the Petition to save the press.

Recent article on the closing of the press by William Least Heat-Moon.

The just announced “plan” to do something or other to replace the press. Unfortunately, not a joke.

This is all very sad and frustrating, and the only humor in the situation consists of the short, nasal chuckle in which a sigh is transformed into a rueful commentary on the silliness of the universe by a slight smile and a slow shake of the head.

Why should you care?  While the closing of the press affects me personally, if you are interested in the study of humor or the study of Mark Twain, then the closing of the press means the loss of a press that published significant books in both areas (see below for a sampling of the books).

Unlike the recent, and quite analogous tumult at the University of Virginia, the decisions of business people, with little academic experience, to so drastically attack key components of academic life has been met with little satiric ridicule.  The work of John Darkow at The Columbia Daily Tribune is the exception.

University of Missouri Press football athletics SEC

University of Missouri Press mizzou football athletics SEC

University of Missouri Press, Tim Wolfe, Mizzou

See below for three more cartoons from Darkow, as well as some other bits of humor and a sampling of the fine books the press has published on humor.

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Humor as Ridicule: The Case of UVa

Tracy Wuster

Virginia Sullivan Dragas(Larger version below)

Like many people in academia, I have been intensely interested in the recent events at the University of Virginia.  For those who don’t know the story, this might be a place to start.  There has been a lot of good commentary on the Board of Visitors surprise and controversial decision to oust the popular president–serious commentary, deep thought, insightful introspection.

All very interesting and important.  But what has struck me, in my capacity as editor of this blog, is the humor.  Friends at UVa and at other schools have posted several pieces of satire aimed at the Board of Visitors and their decision.  This is not good-natured humor, or subtle humor; it is attack humor–humor aimed at immediate change.  Superiority humor: laughing at people and encouraging others to do so by making fun of them.

Kieran Healy’s “Declaration of Independence” (published June 20th) certainly fits this mold.  Read the whole thing, but here is a taste:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Universities are endowed by their Donors with certain unalienable Goals, that among these are Strategy, Dynamism, and the pursuit of some sort of Online Degree delivered via the Interwebs,—That to secure these goals, Presidents are appointed, deriving their just powers from the half-baked ideas of idle Billionaires,—That whenever any University President becomes destructive of these Goals, it is the Right of the BoV to institute a new President, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect Strategy, Dynamism, and Strategic Dynamism.

Healy, a sociology professor at Duke, certainly captured the phrase that will undoubtedly become a punchline in academic circles: “strategic dynamism.”

Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at UVa, joined in by providing a written evaluation of the work of the Rector and Vice-Rector (hint: it’s not a good grade).  Here is the introduction (read the whole thing here):

Dear Ms. Dragas & Mr. Kington:

I’m writing to let you know your grade for the Digital Learning Project, as part of your larger grade as Rector and Vice Rector. I wish I brought better news.

On the bright side, let me complement you on your font choice and the formatting of your emails. Further, they feature some unusual words, and a spirit of verve throughout.

But I’m afraid these bright spots pale in comparison to the problems: an immature analysis brought on by terribly shallow research.

More below:

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How Restaurants Whet Your Appetite with Whimsy and Wit

By Don and Alleen Nilsen, Co-Founders of the International Society for Humor Studies

Now that we have retired from our teaching positions at Arizona State University, we have more time to eat out and what we have discovered is that restaurants are using humor and wit to spice up their patrons’ eating and drinking experiences.  We were recently invited to speak about humor and aging at a big retirement community built in the desert east of Mesa, Arizona.  When we got close, we stopped to eat at a restaurant and were amused to see that the bar area was totally covered with  humorous license plates apparently donated by the retirees (“the Snowbirds”), who come from colder climates to spend warm winters in Arizona.

The license plates were amusing to first-timers, like us, and comforting to repeat customers who were proud to see us taking pictures of a license plate that they identified with, either because they had donated it or because it came from their home state.

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Introducing: Advertisements on the Site

Tracy Wuster, Managing Editor

Reader, you may have noticed, or you will notice, that “Humor in America” now has a number of advertisements on the sidebar and at the end of certain posts.  These ads are for Powell’s bookstore, an independent bookstore in Portland, OR.  I chose Powell’s because of its ease of integration, its clear policies on advertising, and because I support independent bookstores, in general, and love Powell’s specifically.

Some explanation:  we do not get paid for these ads directly.  The website will earn a 7.5% commission on purchases our readers make through Powell’s after clicking through one of the ads.  So, I encourage you to purchase books through the website to help support “Humor in America.”  We may also be including a small number of other advertisements in non-intrusive places on the website.  Contributors will have the choice of whether ads appear in their posts.

The aim of these advertisements is to support the website and its continued growth.  Money coming in will be used in the following ways:

1) operating expenses: payment for domain name and other wordpress necessities

2) payment for contributors: a modest payment for contributions (the details are being worked out by the editors and will be publicized when decided)

3) a scholarship for a graduate student working in humor studies (details to be announced)

4) payment to the managing editor: this would be after other expenses, if the website develops beyond an academic endeavor into a part-time job; this decision and option is a few years down the road.

I am not sure how much money will be made via advertising.  For now, the goal is to cover expenses and see how the situation develops. I will be open about the financial aspect of the site.  Please feel free to ask me questions via email.

See below for sample ads from some of our contributors.  Thank you.  Tracy

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