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


Assignment 1:

Explaining a Comedic Perspective/Writing a Persuasive Argument

3-4 pages

Draft due: Sep. 18; Final copy due: Sep. 25, 2pm

The Assignment: Imagine that someone you know has read or viewed one of the satirical pieces listed on the attached assignment sheet (click on “Assignment 1” above to see the list and a rubric), but that you believe they have completely misunderstood it.  They have either taken the text literally, or have taken the comedian’s argument at face value. In fact, they seem to think that the speaker is arguing the complete opposite point from the one you feel is actually being made.  Your task is to write an essay that convinces this person to understand the text the way you do. Spending time closely examining at least one especially telling passage or moment, explain how the humor is used to critique its object and argue why or why not you think the humorous strategy is effective.


Assignment 2:

Testing a Theory of Comedy

4-6 pages

Draft due: Oct. 16; Final copy due: Oct. 23, 2pm

The Assignment: For this assignment, you will be asked to engage with one of the theories of comedy outlined in the first chapter of John Morreall’s book Comic Relief. You will test it as an explanation for how the humor works in a comedic primary “text” (a list will be provided). Identify several moments in the primary text that seem to fit the theory best and explain why. Or, alternatively, find details that show the theory doesn’t quite work.  Use the comedy to test the theory, and be sure to fully demonstrate why the theory works (fully or partially) or totally fails.  In other words, explain how you understand the theory and then demonstrate why the specific details of one comedic piece do or do not fit the theory. Make a claim either 1) about the comedic object: how we can better understand it through the theoretical lens or 2) about the theory: how useful (or not) it is for understanding how comedy works, with the primary text working as an example.


Assignment 3:

Reconstructing Comedy’s Contexts/Research Project

6-8 pages

Draft due: Nov. 15; Final copy due: Nov. 27, 2pm

The Assignment: For this research paper, you will choose a comedic piece produced before 1990 and reconstruct its humor within the parameters of its contexts, explaining how the comedy would have been understood by its intended audience. The jokes/humor you choose to examine should be topical to the time, place, and/or other contexts of their creation and can include allusions to other works of art, historical figures, politicians, etc. Your argument will be based on academic research, and you will select your topic in consultation with the instructor. There will be several steps that build to this assignment including an annotated bibliography about the context of your chosen piece (see “Collective Annotated Bibliography” section below in this syllabus). We will discuss the steps of this project in detail.


Assignment 4:

Writing Satire

3 page explication + creative project

Proposal due: Dec. 4; Final project due: Dec. 18, at final exam

The Assignment: Think of a contemporary social or political issue that you feel strongly about.  It should be a topic that reasonable people on both sides have taken positions on.  You will create a comedic piece that argues for your view of the issue while mocking or ridiculing the other side.

The comedy you create can be in any medium you choose (with my approval). You could use Swift’s “Modest Proposal” as a model and write a modest proposal of your own, or you could write a satire that pretends to embrace the very idea you intend to show is wrong. You could also create a parody video à la Stephen Colbert, or you could draw a critical comic. You can also think outside these possibilities. Using the forms of the comedies we’ve looked at this semester, steer your audience away from the opinion you don’t hold toward the one you do.  Remember as you work that many comedians don’t hope to ever persuade the other side, but rather to convince those who already share their beliefs that they are right.


For this project, you will also write a short explication that discusses the issue you’ve chosen to examine, your stance, and your choice of comedic method, and then proceeds to reflect on the process you underwent, discussing how well you were able to embody your ideas via whatever medium you chose.

The comedic piece itself will vary in length/other specifics based on the needs of its medium, but if it is a written project, it should probably be about three pages; if it is a video project, it should probably be about two minutes long; visual projects should take whatever form is appropriate. You will work closely with the instructor in order to determine whether or not your project meets the needs of the assignment.


COVER LETTERS: With the final drafts of assignments 1-3, you will also submit a brief reflective cover letter of about ½ page on a separate sheet of paper that discusses your experience of writing the essay (this is already built into assignment 4, which will have its own reflective component). You may write about whatever seems most relevant, but you should consider addressing the following: What was I trying most to improve about my writing in this paper? What edits did I attempt between the rough draft and the final copy? What did I feel was most successful about this essay? What do I feel is still lacking?


COLLECTIVE ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY: This project is due November 8th.  Creating this document will help you prepare for your research project. You and a small group of your classmates will collaborate to find a common interest you’d like to explore for the research paper (we will discuss this in detail) and you will create this document to pool your sources. You will each be responsible for finding two quality sources that might help everyone in the group and create an annotated entry for each of them. An annotated bibliography entry consists of an MLA-style entry (just like you would put on a Works Cited page) and a short paragraph that 1) gives a brief summary of what’s in the source and 2) comments on the value of the source and/or how you imagine the source might be useful.


PRESENTATION: For this course you will also sign up to give one 5-10 minute presentation. You will sign up for the day you want to present, and for each class day, I have chosen a set of possible readings that might help us have a more fruitful conversation. You can find these on this site under the “Readings & Media” tab, marked “Further Reading,” and you can find the PDFs of the readings in the “Further Reading” folder of our GDrive. You will choose ONE of those readings. In class, you will summarize what you read and ask 1-2 open-ended discussion questions about how the article you read relates to our larger discussion.

(If you find a reading other than the ones I’ve proposed that relates to our discussion for the day that you’d prefer to present on, I am open to that. However, you MUST get it approved by me first in order to receive credit, and I will only approve readings that are equally substantial and credible as the ones I’ve suggested.)


IN-CLASS WORK: When I ask that students stop and brainstorm or do a free-write or some other short in-class exercise, they should either keep all those writings in one physical place so that they can show it to me at the end of the semester, or they can record those exercises later in the “In-Class Work” document in their GDrive folder. Either way, I will give you credit for having done that work at the end of the semester. Additionally, those who devote particular attention to these exercises, doing them fully, thoughtfully, and consistently, may receive extra credit.



** See the “Course Contract” page of this site for a list of objective, baseline requirements for each assignment — meeting those will guarantee you a B or better in the course.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email