Emerson College now offers a Masters Degree in comedy. No joke.
by Brent Bambury (@notrexmurphy)
Emerson College, a liberal arts institution founded in Boston, is offering a degree in comedy -- a 4 year B.F.A. in "comedic arts."
And the mere idea of such a diploma is causing some people to lose their minds.
"Could a College Degree in Comedy Be Anything Other Than a Joke?" the New York Times demanded in the headline of an article that otherwise engaged reasonably with the syllabus of the program, which includes courses such as "Comedy Writing for Television"," Fundamentals of Comedic Storytelling"," The Films of Adam Sandler."
OK, the last one is a joke. I made it up. There's no course on the cinematic oeuvre of Sandler that we know of. But maybe there should be. Does anyone know how "Happy Gilmour" managed to rake in $41.2m USD at the box office? Shouldn't someone study that?
We decided to ask some comedians.
Anybody enrolling in a comedy class is a bum.- Kliph Nesteroff
Three stand-up comics joined me on CBC Day 6 and I invited them to have a go at Emerson's very expensive academic program. I expected they'd tear it apart. But they were more subtle than that.
Evany Rosen is a writer, a stand-up comic and a member of the sketch comedy troupe PicnicFace. Former stand-up comic Kliph Nesteroff is the author of "The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy." And Jess Saloman is a former war crimes lawyer turned comedian. I asked if they would have been interested in a degree in comedy when they were starting out.
"I would have been in for sure," Jess admits. "I just was a real school person that liked structure and I didn't see comedy as a real career. But if there had been a degree in it, I might have enrolled in it."
Kliph thinks the other students would be less academically inclined.
"Anybody that's enrolling in a comedy class is a bum," he says.
"They're doing it because they don't want to take real school, really. You know, you're getting pressured by your mother to go to post-secondary schooling. Definitely you are going to take that comedy course because there is a desire or a dream that maybe it means just watching 'Caddyshack'."
"I'm actually very glad my mother made me get a post-secondary education -- that I never use, because it's in early modern philosophy and come on now." - Evany Rosen
Evany seems to think other comedy students wouldn't be very stimulating.
"I'm actually very glad that my mother made me get a post-secondary education -- that I never use, because it's in early modern philosophy and come on now," she says. "But I know at least I have some references other than just what a hundred other 18 year olds who also want to be comedians would tell me."
"Sounds like a brutal frosh week," she adds.
You don't have to be nice
All three comedians agreed there were things that could be taught that may help a comic in their career, from business practices to setting up a website. There was a particular reverence for the history of comedy, but this may have been because Kliph Nesterof's book would be a likely text.
But the most valuable lessons they learned were not ones that would likely be included in Emerson's courses.
You can get great laughs by not being nice- Jess Saloman
Kliph Nesteroff recalls a rough night he had on the comedy stage.
"I learned a hard lesson. I was being heckled and in character, I left the stage and addressed the guy personally in character. I was wearing a necktie and he strangled me [with it]."
"Lesson learned is: never leave the stage because as soon as you leave that stage you're no longer doing an act. You're an actual human being."
Evany Rosen says her most valuable non-academic lesson came during a brutal one night stand in a legion hall. "You have got to know how to stick and move," she says
Jess Salomon, ex lawyer, says her greatest lesson was when she learned to let go of civility.
"It was just not worrying about people's feelings or appealing to everybody -- just not being nice all the time and realizing that when you're not nice, people really laugh -- and a lot. You can get great laughs by not being nice", she says.
"And you didn't learn to not be nice as a lawyer?" asks Evany, incredulous.