All Jokes Aside
Imagine you are a child going to your first piano lesson. The piano is taller than you. Excited to play it, you reach out, and *smack* your teacher slams down a music theory book. You proceed to spend years reading that book with the piano just out of reach. That was a reality for Emmanuelle Dupart, a YUI+Co. coworker, who was seven years old when she began taking piano lessons. She wasn’t allowed to touch a piano until she was nine. As music was drummed into her like lessons in a math class, Emmanuelle’s interest in the art form decrescendoed before she even sat on the bench.
Art is a personal experience, one that requires the trial and error satisfaction derived from just diving in. Artists grow to greatness from the burning curiosity that stems from not knowing. The endless possibilities of creation are the driving force behind innovation. Introducing the creation of art with a regimented structure of how it is “supposed” to be done is inherently flawed.
As an amateur comedian and comedy nerd, I’m both excited and worried about the new trend of having comedy-specific programs in colleges and universities. In 2016, Emerson College introduced a Comedic Arts major. USC and UCLA are two other schools that teach the mechanics of being funny. What’s exciting is that comedy is increasingly understood as a powerful, persuasive force. But to effectively teach an art form as free-spirited as comedy, the environment must not only teach discipline and tradition, but also risk-taking and freethinking.
As Jerry Seinfeld said to John Oliver during his Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee interview: “In stand-up, you want a mongrel-y, cretinous, troll-like, out-from-under-a-bridge individual.” To which Oliver replied, “Exactly. Suddenly into the daylight.” We all knew that ADHD high-schooler you thought should be a comedian. That’s who needs to be inspired into productivity. If the experience isn’t hands-on, creative students will lose interest just like Emmanuelle did.
An age-old oxymoron is that comedy might be taken seriously in the first place. Many of the world’s greatest comedians never graduated from college. We compiled a list of current, popular, living, American stand-up comedians and identified whether or not they completed college. Approximately 40% of the 87 comedians researched either did not graduate or did not go at all, but yet they are some of the most important voices of our comedic landscape. For example, Hannibal Buress, known for his stand-up and roles on Broad City and The Eric Andre Show, dropped out of college and stands in society as a spokesman for important philosophical and ethical topics.
Buress recently performed at Loyola University and was cut off about 5 minutes in when he said: “Y’all fuck kids, right?” A disgusting sentiment with no context. But Loyola University, a Jesuit school, forced Buress to agree to refrain from talking about rape, sexual assault, race, or sexual orientation. If you question a comedian’s moral integrity, they throw it back in your face. Like a wild animal, or a mongrel-y, troll-like something or other, instinct kicked in and Buress pointed out the dishonest hypocrisy of Loyola’s request.
Buress is also credited for playing a major role in having Bill Cosby convicted. In 2014, Buress used his stage time to respond to Cosby’s criticism of his use of profanity. As you can see in the linked video and the excerpt below, Buress gave a cutting, straight-forward description of Cosby. All jokes aside, he said what he needed to say.
Comedians tend to only truly value what they have to say. Unfiltered responses and lack of inhibition are essential to many of our world’s greatest creators. The last thing I want is for that to change. If there’s an uprising of people waving around their comedy degrees like they’re holier than thou, the industry will lose its purity–the childlike sincerity that self-hating, self-deprecating, and oftentimes depressive comedians have brought to the table since Charlie Chaplin showed himself unable to walk in the wind.
Playing the devil’s advocate, there is a formula to jokes. A professional comedian will often know the punchline to a joke before the set-up is complete. It’s because there’s a learning curve to being funny, and effectively teaching that formula in a curriculum would be immensely helpful to young, aspiring comedians.
When communicating any concept, it’s paramount to strike a balance between sincerity and formula. The communicators must stay true to the roots of their medium. If you stray from the heart of your concept, listeners will be unable to appreciate or fully grasp what you have to say. In teaching someone how to be a part of an industry, not only must you show them the technical form for excellence, but you must also stay true to the soul of the community—no matter how cretinous and troll-like it may be.