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 writing short pieces of humor for the readership of your classmates.

Humor occupies a large territory in our lives as a kind of daily lubricant that makes the rest of life 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, read examples of short humor from Twain to Margaret Cho to analyze and use as models, and study competing theorists on the subject, ranging from the philosopher Henri Bergson to Looney Tunes director Chuck Jones.

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 history.

 

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 above came from an editor’s invitation to participate in a book of rebooted adventure stories. I’d read the Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan tales as kid, but revisiting that 19th-century sensibility in 2018 was painful, and I couldn’t wrap my head around trying to inhabit that world view. 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 colonies, 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."