Sophomore Seminars

I Bet You Think You're Funny: A Workshop in Humor

ENGLISH 19Q

What makes writing funny? What are we doing when we try to be funny? Most importantly, what’s funny about you? This course will be a creative writing workshop in which you’ll exercise your native wit by developing short pieces of humor for the audience of your classmates.

Humor performs a vital service in our lives as a daily lubricant that makes everything else bearable. We regularly seek it in our amusement and value it highly in our friends, yet we seldom address humor directly in the academy, as if it weren’t worthy of or susceptible to inquiry. In this course, we’ll look at principles and structures that writers have, over the years, repeatedly used to make things funny, analyze models of humor from writers such as Dorothy Parker and Trevor Noah, and study theorists on the subject ranging from Henri Bergson to Hannah Gadsby. In the service of creating and understanding humor, we’ll also explore questions about what purposes humor serves, what our sense of humor reveals about us, and what relationship humor has with culture and power.

You’ll write in class, workshop your assignments and those of your fellow humorists, and discuss published examples and the issues they raise. I’ll distribute texts and video links via Canvas. Expect to write three short humor pieces, a standup routine, collaborate on a comedy sketch, and give a brief presentation.

 

My name was never Frankenstein

Read Prof. Porter’s “Return of the Ape Man” published in My Name Was Never Frankenstein (2019, Indiana University Press).

Meet the Instructor(s)

Edward Porter

"I wanted to teach this course because of the persistent swerve I’ve found in my own writing to confront my fears through humor. Over time, I’ve learned not to censor myself when an apparently serious subject drives me to make jokes. The story I’ve linked to came from an editor’s invitation to participate in a book of rebooted adventure stories. I’d loved the Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan tales as a kid but revisiting that sensibility and world view in 2018 was disturbing to say the least. I thought I’d have to drop out of the project until suddenly, during an in-class writing session at Stanford, I discovered a framework that let me riff on the aspects of Tarzan that had upset me so much.

"My comic writing has appeared in places such as Booth, Barrelhouse, Catamaran, Miracle Monocle, and the anthologies Winesburg, Indiana and the above-mentioned My Name Was Never Frankenstein. My serious fiction has been published in Glimmer Train, Gettysburg Review, Hudson Review, Colorado Review, Best New American Voices, and elsewhere. I’m a former Stegner Fellow and current Jones Lecturer at Stanford, and my work has been supported by the MacDowell and Yaddo artist residencies, the Bread Loaf and Sewanee writers conferences, the Elizabeth George Foundation, and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. I hold an MFA from Warren Wilson College and a Ph.D. from the University of Houston."