English | Projects in Reading & Writing: "Comedifying" Culture
W170 | 6963 | Johnston


6963    TR    4:00p - 5:15p    WH 006    Rick Johnston

TOPIC: "Comedifying" Culture: Gender, Race, and Sexuality in
Contemporary American Culture

Children’s writer E. B. White once wrote, “Analyzing humor is like
dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of
it.” Should we, as White seems to suggest, consume comedic texts
only for pleasure or escapism? Or, could analyzing comedic texts
enable us to see ways of acting and knowing not possible if we only
enter into situations with a “tragic” attitude?

This course works against the assumptions implicit within White’s
statement. Throughout the course, we will investigate how comedic
texts operate. We will begin with a brief survey of some traditional
notions of comedy which will include theories by Aristotle, Freud,
and Bergson in order to familiarize ourselves with how these
theorists believe comedy works. We will apply those theories to The
Daily Show in order for you to develop a working theory of comedy.
We will then spend most of the semester investigating the ways that
comedic texts reflect and shape our attitudes toward larger cultural
discourses such as race, gender, and sexuality. Some of the
questions which will drive our inquiry include the following: To
what extent is comedy universal or personal? At whom or at what do
certain comedic texts invite us to laugh? Do they ask us to feel
superior or vulnerable? What type of audience members do comedic
texts invite us to become? To what extent are certain comedic forms
gendered, raced, or sexed? To what extent do comedic texts ignore
certain discourses for comic effect?

Besides The Daily Show, other primary texts may include episodes of
Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Everybody Hates Chris,
Family Guy, South Park, and Will and Grace, as well as the films
Superbad and Knocked Up. Additionally, we will read several critical
articles on gender, race, and sexuality in order to develop and
extend your own analysis. Please note this is an analytical writing
course in which we will study the academic conventions necessary for
a successful college career. You should expect to read texts
critically and produce writing for nearly every class. You will
complete six short papers and three longer papers (with drafts).