The (Powerful) Art of Stand-Up

Lucas Johnson's "Funny" E-Term

“Humor is powerful. Dangerous. It can be edgy and lead to violence,” suggests Assistant Professor of English and Writing Center Director, Lucas Johnson. During E-Term 2018, students have the opportunity to explore this potent craft in Johnson’s class, The Art of Stand-Up Comedy. While much of this course revolves around showmanship, performance is only part of its structure.

“We’re really looking at cultural studies,” says Johnson. “We are going to trace the roots of contemporary comics both in terms of identity and content. There will also be a lot of rhetorical analysis—there is no better technique to persuade someone than humor.”

Johnson’s class will examine humor from the three modes of persuasion: pathos, logos, and ethos. These rhetorical forms are obvious in stand-up comedians.

“[Stand-ups] are really trying to break down your defenses,” says Johnson. “That’s why a lot of commercials go for humor. Geico commercials, for example, are all about being funny.”

Johnson says that the fact that only males are registered for the class raises important questions.

“What does that say about stand-up comedy? Why is this considered such a ‘masculine’ thing?” asks Johnson. While many of the best-known stand-ups (like Jerry Seinfeld) are male, the course’s learning outcomes apply to both sexes.

“[Stand-up] is vulnerable,” says Johnson. “It’s really about exploring your own personality, your own sense of humor, [and] what you think is funny. It’s interesting to see how that plays out with people [using] something as sensitive as humor.”

He regrets that the male-to-female ratio is not balanced in the course but encourages all of his students to look at the world with a sense of depth. Whether Rodney Dangerfield or Conan O’Brien, each stand-up’s world demands intellectual exploration.

“If I break down a joke into logic, it’s A+B=F. It involves timing, but so much of it involves voice,” explains Johnson. He adds that by the end of the semester, he hopes “students will develop a deeper understanding of cultural implications of stand-up comedy...and an appreciation for the power of humor.”

The Art of Stand-Up Comedy meets every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 1pm-4pm during the month of January. This course is open to all.

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