Comedy as Critique
"Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot." — Charlie Chaplin

The primary goal of English 110 is to introduce you to the modes of writing and questioning that are at the heart of a liberal arts education and the Queens curriculum. In English 110, you will pursue questions of scholarly consequence as you build the authority you will need to write your way into existing intellectual conversations. At Queens, every section of English 110 takes on a particular topic for students to explore in their writing, and this section will examine the ways in which comedy, satire, humor, and play can be utilized as modes of critique. Because the comedic texts we will study this semester are performing some of the same critical moves that we will perform as writers, we will look at them as both objects of analysis and also as possible models for the work that we do in the university.


Humor, through its sense of play, often tricks us into reconsidering our opinion, or may turn society’s values completely upside-down.  It can also be a shocking and surprising mode for presenting unpopular beliefs or using form as a shield while harshly criticizing the powerful. Many comedic writers hope to hold a mirror up to society and to its most important individuals and reveal something true about them.  This kind of work can be witty and ironic, sometimes ridiculous, often biting and occasionally cruel.  And it is always written with careful attention to the persuasive powers of writing.


Looking at a range of comedic forms, we will explore how these modes work, why an author might choose to write in them, how they define an audience (and reject an opposition), and how they use style and tone to persuade.  These are questions we could ask about all writing, and indeed we will study comedy as a means to examine and improve our own writing.  While studying the persuasive tools in the comedian’s repertoire, students will become more conscious of the various rhetorical devices they use when writing.  This semester we will write about comedy, write about theories of comedy, and we will even create comedic critiques of our own.  In the process, you will learn how to construct more effective and more convincing arguments.

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