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Writing About American Comedy

Semester and Year SP 2016
Course Number WRTNG-UG1507
Section 001
Instructor Saul Austerlitz
Days R
Time 3:30 PM - 6:10 PM
12:00 AM - 12:00 AM
Units 4
Level U



Writing about comedy is a treacherous affair, and one that raises numerous intractable questions: What is comedy? What path has it carved out for itself over the past century? And how do we write about it? This advanced writing course will survey the story of American comedy in all its multifarious formats—the sitcom, the film comedy, the stand-up act, the variety show— while also serving as a workshop for cultural criticism that goes deeper than the recap. Utilizing a combination of reading, viewing, live performances, and workshopping, this course will sharpen students’ skills as writers by exposing them to the wide range of American comedy from Charlie Chaplin to “Key & Peele,” with units on African-American comedy, women in comedy, political comedy, and self-aware comedy, among others. In this course, we will wrestle with the complexities of writing about comedy, including, but not limited to, the question of whether being funny about what’s funny is a faux pas or a necessity. Writing assignments will offer students the opportunity to learn about the craft of cultural criticism by attending a stand-up show and writing a review, selecting a single humorous scene from a film or television show and describing it in detail, and other prompts. Students in the course will try their hand at everything from blog posts to feature stories to sample book chapters to comic sketches of their own. Readings will include essays by John Leonard, Woody Allen, Clive James, Anthony Lane, Emily Nussbaum, Walter Kerr, James Agee, Tom Shales, and others.


All Syllabi

Course Type

Advanced Writing Courses (WRTNG-UG)