What is funny?

“Tragedy is when I cut my finger, Comedy is when I fall in an open sewer and die.”-Mel Brooks

The question I am addressing for my sequence of instruction is, “what is funny?” Other questions include: Why do we laugh? Why do we cry? What’s the difference? With these questions, I am hoping to challenge my students into thinking of life and its relation to art outside the prescribed list of serious texts used all too frequently in the classroom (ie. To Kill A Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, A Farewell to Arms, etc.). This curriculum would leave my students with insight into the origins of comedy, why its important, its various forms, devices and applications (ie. Satire, Slapstick, Political/Social Commentary, respectively).

The texts I would include come from a broad range of media (plays, novels, pamphlets, short stories, film, television, etc.), of course starting with more historical/traditional  texts:

Lysistrata by Aristophanes

As You Like It by Shakespeare

A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (film)

Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove  (film)

A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (graphic novel)

Absolutely Normal Chaos by Sharon Creech

(this list is far from complete and may change drastically within the next week or so. Also, if anyone has anymore suggestions for this list, please let me know. I’m hoping to make it as diverse as possible)

I would have students pick TV shows or sketch comedy shows that we could play for the class, maybe find some stand-up comedy (it may be hard to find any stand-up without offensive language). Assignments would include a mix creative writing exercises–writing comedy sketches and performing them either live or through the use of digital video– and analytical essays. The main focus would be on class discussions.

Of course, it won’t be all fun and games. With this question, I hope to show my students why comedy should be taken seriously and explore why it isn’t.

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1 Comment

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One response to “What is funny?

  1. sunyprof

    Raph, please do sign your posts.

    As you already know, I think this is a very good topic…I would like to see you refine your questions a bit more…to provide more focused questions to explore as opportunities for reading/writing/discussion that flow from the essential “What makes us laugh?” You say, e.g., that you want your students to think about why comedy isn’t taken seriously–but you don’t state that topic as a question. Shouldn’t you?

    Your bib. is interesting–but I would like to see the connection between those very diff. texts and the sub-questions? What forms of comedy do they represent? Why would you use them? Why these texts? Do they all share a particular view of the comic? Probably not.

    Then the task becomes narrowing (5 weeks remember!) the lens–so that perhaps you are including only those texts that support two pointed “unit” questions that branch off the essential question.

    Too, in a short unit–I recommend you bring in shorter texts — you will need to do some searching here to find what you want. Jokes, e.g., are missing from your list of texts!!

    I am so happy to see you working on the unit. I hope your classmates respond. KES

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