Communication and Culture | Media, Culture, and Politics (Topic: Racial Comedy as Rhetorical Education)
C445 | 4357 | Rossing, J.

Summer Session II
MTuWThF, 11:30 AM-12:20 PM, SY 004

Instructor: Jonathan Rossing
Office: 800 E. 3rd St. – room 210
Phone: 855-0482

Is humor political? … Can comedy change culture and society? … Can
we easily dismiss comedy as “just a joke?” …How might comedy serve
as an educational curriculum for good citizenship and civic virtue?
This course seeks to explore these questions as we study the
cultural phenomenon of racial comedy through the lens of “rhetorical

The problem of race in the United States is complex and it is a
topic we often avoid, dismiss, and find very uncomfortable.
Nevertheless, we seem to laugh about it endlessly. For decades,
television sitcoms have thrived on racial humor from All in the
Family to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to My Wife and Kids. Comedians
such as Chris Rock, Steve Martin, Dave Chappelle, Jeff Foxworthy,
and Margaret Cho have built entire routines (and careers) on the
subject of race. Movies regularly rely on racial caricatures and
humor for laughs. Surely there is something we might learn from this
often taboo topic that is regularly fair game for comedy.

What is the rhetorical power and educational potential of racial
jokes and race-related comedy? This  course will study concept of
rhetorical (or civic) education and connect the goals of such
education to possible outcomes of and responses to comedy.
Throughout the course, we will study specific examples of racial
comedy from every realm of popular culture as well as critical
analysis of racial comedy in order to consider the potential of
racial comedy as more than “just a joke”—as a site for rhetorical
education and possible social change.