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Quarterly Topic

Great Works Symposium 2015-2016: Comedy
UNIV 241
Pennoni Honors College 
(Find under “University-wide courses")

Fall 2015: “Comedy in Historical Context"

Instructors: Scott Knowles, Melinda Lewis, and Lloyd Ackert

Standup comedy is one of the most recognizable and popular forms of comedy performance. With comedians telling jokes on our televisions, computer screens, and in films, standup has become a regular form of entertainment and expressions. This course is aimed toward studying standup as a craft, practice/performance, and as a form of expression/cultural critique. The course will include studying the work of comedians like Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Dave Chappelle, and Jen Kirkman (to name but a few). Instructors and guest speakers will offer opportunities for students to analyze the relationship between jokes, performance, and the contexts in which they are told – cultural, industrial, regional.  Throughout the course, students will be expected to engage in discussions regarding jokes and meaning, and by the quarter’s end, will have opportunities to workshop their own jokes and develop their comedy performance.

Winter 2015: “Dark Comedy” 

Instructors: Melinda Lewis and Lloyd Ackert

Charlie Chaplin famously contended comedy was "tragedy plus time." Most assume comedy requires laughter, but what of comedy texts that challenge us in different ways – be it Jonathan Swift encouraging us to eat infant in his "A Modest Proposal" to the controversial satire of life and technology in the British series Black Mirror. Can something be labeled as humorous or funny without laughter? What is the role and significance of dark comedy in culture? What does dark comedy provide the artist and audience? Lecture and discussions will explore theories of humor, cultural context, and case studies. 

Spring 2016 “Improve for Everyone” 

Instructors: Melinda Lewis, Michael Yudell, and Mike Marbach

Improv is not just for actors or comedians. Improv is for everyone.  Whether you plan on being a teacher, a doctor, the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or any other profession-improv can help you. The general concept of improv is all about agreement and support.  Through a combination of lecture and interactive exercises, this class will explore the basic skills of ‘long form improvisation', how those skills can aid you in real world experiences, how to think more quickly on your feet, and ultimately how to have more fun in life. The class will incorporate lectures that deal with the history of comedy and improv.

Summer 2016: “Comedic Performance as Activism” 

Instructors: Lloyd Ackert

This course is devoted to mentoring students in organizing performances aimed at activism.  Building on a previous course in the GWS, students will study the role of comedy as social and political activism, and create and perform an original performance. 

For more information, contact Dr. Kevin Egan at