Wit, Irony, Comedy




In life, as in literature, humor often takes us by surprise: it gives delight; it lightens our mood; it makes us laugh. The question is: why? Laughter, in many ways, is a mystery. If tragedy’s existence is all too easy to explain— suffering needs to be borne, and we yearn to find explanations for it—then it’s comedy that’s the enigma. Taking the comic seriously, this seminar provides a broad investigation into the psychological, sociological, philosophical, dramatic, and literary functions of humor. To understand how what we find funny changes in relation to shifting social, cultural, and historical contexts, we will bring a range of approaches to bear on the study of humor: wit and wordplay; the phenomenon of laughing; satire and irony; jokes and joking; sexual humor and the taboo; parody; humor in performance, including stand-up; the question of gender; obstacles that confront female humorists; religious humor; ethnic humor, especially Jewish; queer camp humor; Black humor; the differences between verbal wit and visual humor; humor and comedy as a refusal of the tragic: literature with a comic surface and tragic depth. Throughout the semester, we will study literary works from Shakespeare to the present day as well as theater history, performance, film, television, stand-up comedy, cartoons, etc. Works by psychologists, philosophers, anthropologists, and sociologists will supplement our analysis.
Additional Information:
Faculty: Thomas Wisniewski
Semester: Full Fall Term
Time: Wednesday, 3:00 - 5:45 pm