Syllabus and Calendar

Course Meeting Times

Seminar: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session


There are no prerequisites for this course.

Course Description

In this practice-based course, we will take a laboratory approach to the production of comedy across a multitude of media platforms. Texts exploring various theories of comedy will be read alongside histories of comedic artists, tropes and aesthetics. Each week we will look at, listen to, watch and analyze examples of these, asking not only what makes them funny (or not), but also how these artists employ the media in which they work to comedic effect. These media may include live performance, drawings, diagrams, sculpture, broadcast and recorded sound, photographs, music, film, video and digital media, among others.

The primary objective of this course, however, will be the creation of our own comedic artworks and the establishment of a discourse surrounding them informed by the above. Each week students will produce and present their own self-directed and collaborative artworks, exercises, field recordings, texts and performances in a generous and supportive environment. At the end of the semester, each student will submit a portfolio of their work along with a personal statement articulating the theory and approach they developed over the course of the semester, referencing the readings, screenings and discussion we engaged in.



Participation and Incidental Assignments

NOTE: This is a laboratory class that will require full and generous participation from all students. This means arriving on time with readings completed and with questions to discuss; participating in discussions, engaging in class exercises and collaborating productively with fellow students both in and outside of class.

Project 1 20%
Project 2 20%
Project 3 20%
Portfolio 10%

For detailed information on the activities, see the Assignments section.


Unit I: What Is Comedy?
1 Stations of the Fool – Laughter in History
2 Laughing Now…
3 Doing Comedy…
Unit II: The Elements of Comedy
4 Jokes
5 Writing Funny

Pantomime and Physical Comedy


Charlie Chaplin - A Night In The Show (1915).” YouTube. 

Charlie Chaplin The Pawn Shop (1916).” YouTube.

Charlie Chaplin Easy Street (1917).” YouTube.

Buster Keaton The Playhouse (1921).” YouTube.

Jerry Lewis - The Errand Boy (1961) Pantomime.” YouTube.

Liza Minnelli Tries to Turn Off a Lamp - SNL.” YouTube.

Julie Atlas Muz / King Tut's Wah Wah Hut Live @ Whitney Museum 2015.” YouTube.

Matt Foley: Van Down By The River - SNL.” YouTube.

Zach Galifianakis on physical comedy.” YouTube.

The Big Baby Makes the Sale - SNL.” YouTube.

Spartan Cheerleaders at a Chess Tournament - SNL.” YouTube.


Anarchistic Comedy, Dada and Other Nonsense


Monkey Business. Directed by Norman Z. McLeod. Black and White, 77 min. 1931.

Monty Python's flying circus - Interview and salesman.” YouTube.

Confuse-A-Cat ~ Monty Python's Flying Circus.” YouTube.

Monty Python - How Not to Be Seen (Original version).” YouTube.

Reggie Watts disorients you in the most entertaining way.” YouTube.

Reggie Watts: Fuck Shit Stack.” YouTube.

8 Stand Up Comedy

Concrete Comedy

Guest lecturer: Michael Portnoy

10 “Real” Performance: The Case of Andy Kaufman
11 Interventionists Comedy
12 Counterfactual Comedy
12 (optional)


Note: This unit is optional and may be done in concert with, or in place of, Week 12's unit on counterfactual comedy

13 The Podcast
14 Presentations of portfolios