While there is ample evidence that students in higher education benefit from an instructor’s judicious use of humor in lectures and teaching materials, there is less analysis available about the benefits to student critical thinking and communication of making a formal study of the mechanisms of comedy. In this article the author describes a new first-year, general-education course students titled Laughing Matters: Comedy and Satire, which she created because she believes such a topic is truly interdisciplinary, asking students to come to a sophisticated understanding of the interaction of psychological, sociological, historical, cultural, and artistic critical processes while engaging actively in a classroom dynamic that requires and fosters listening, tolerance, and cooperation. Because the material of performed and literary comedy is often confrontational and offensive, such a course enables students to “lean in” to the discomfort that conversations about racism, sexism, and political debate can cause, armed with a critical apparatus and a metadiscussion of how complex cognitive processes can create productive cultural exchange. This article offers descriptions of some of the readings and exercises in the course, with student responses that confirm that they valued the critical insights developed in this course, enhanced by their enjoyment of the course’s entertaining content.
You Gotta Laugh: Teaching Critical Thinking via Comedy
Kristen McDermott, professor of English literature at Central Michigan University, teaches Shakespeare, early modern drama, and literature courses at all levels that emphasize the intersection of performed and literary art. Her publications include Masques of Difference: Four Court Masques by Ben Jonson, a Revels Student Edition published by Manchester University Press (2007); William Shakespeare: His Life and Times (coauthored with Ari Berk), an illustrated introduction for young readers to the world of Shakespeare, published in 2010 by Templar/Candlewick and winner of the School Library Association’s 2011 Informational Book Children’s Choice Award; and reviews and articles on Jonson and Shakespeare. She has also published articles on folkloric and mythic elements linking Shakespearean drama to modern fantasy literature.
Kristen McDermott; You Gotta Laugh: Teaching Critical Thinking via Comedy. Pedagogy 1 April 2019; 19 (2): 339–351. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/15314200-7296002
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