Writing and Rhetoric Students and Faculty Organize Interdisciplinary Humor Symposium

Comedy is no laughing matter, or at least, it’s not just a laughing matter. This year scholars and students at URI set out to afford humor the attention and respect it deserves through a series of events that will culminate in an all-day, interdisciplinary symposium on Saturday, March 22nd entitled “Open Mic, Open Minds: An Exploration of Social Issues Through Stand-up.”  Associate Professor of Writing and Rhetoric Dr. Jeremiah Dyehouse is the faculty advisor to the committee, which includes Writing and Rhetoric Ph.D. students Krysten Manke and Jillian Belanger.

The first event, a stand-up comedy workshop led by Nathan Hartswick of Spark Arts Entertainment in New Hampshire, took place on Friday, October 18th, 2013.  Twelve URI undergraduate and graduate students participated in the event, and eight performed at Comedy Workshopthe culminating show in the Memorial Union coffeehouse, which drew more than 50 spectator students who cheered on their friends, had a good laugh, and enjoyed some free coffee.

On Monday, November 25th, 2013, the committee continued the stand-up workshop by co-organizing a stand-up competition called “Last Ram Standing” with the URI Student Entertainment Committee.  Eight students competed before an audience of over 100 students, and judges Michael Nolfe, Meredith Peabody, and Katie Donnelly scored contestants on originality, stage presence, and audience reaction.  Comedian Dan Boulger was the emceee for the evening, and comedian Poppy Champlin performed while the judges counted votes.   A junior majoring in Writing and Rhetoric, Evan Little, was the first place winner!  His prize included two tickets to every show the Student Entertainment Committee puts on in the spring, a spot in the lineup for that Saturday night’s comedy show at the local bar Charlie O’s, and the opportunity to perform at “Open Mic, Open Minds: An Exploration of Social Issues Through Stand-up.”

Comedy Workshop

Finally, at the one-day, interdisciplinary humor symposium on Saturday March 22, 2014, we are looking to celebrate, create, and critique comedy while providing insights to its history and uses.  Our keynote speaker is Dr. Jerry Zolten from Penn State Altoona, who will be delivering a multimedia presentation on the historical roots of stand-up comedy, and our closing comedian is Patton Oswalt, with an opening act by Myq Kaplan.

Participants will include students, faculty, community members, and performers.  During the hands-on, minds-on symposium, participants will: attend workshops presented by performers and professionals in the field of humor communications; view and discuss excerpts of stand-up performances addressing social issues; work in groups to produce Comedy Workshopand present their own comedic material around a social issue of their choice; and enjoy a live stand-up comedy act as a culminating experience.

If you’re interested in submitting a proposal to present a 20- or 50-minute workshop session, please visit our website, www.OpenMicOpenMinds.com, and follow us on Twitter for updates: @ComedyScholar.  Possible topics for presentations include legal issues in stand-up, medical benefits of laughter, race and comedy, gender and comedy, political humor, and teaching with humor.  Topics not included in this list are most welcome as well; we are interested in exploring humor in all its interdisciplinary possibilities.

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