Thursday, September 25, 2008

Comedy, Persona and Teaching

We had to present our own material to the class this week. It was based around situations we find ourselves in again and again. Trying to write material that's funny over a three-minute period is very hard work.

It's easy to tell a joke now and then, but sustaining it and giving it a narrative structure so that the jokes are carried is fiercesomely difficult. One of the tricks is to write the narrative then say it out loud. Does it flow? Does it sound funny? Was that meant to be a joke? You're kidding. Then rewrite and say it out loud again. It's remorseless.

I know all good academic writing is in truth a process of continuous rewriting, but with that I know I am working within accepted paradigms that essentially cosset and comfort me.

Comedy has exactly none of that. It exposes all of you to the awful truth. Are you any good or not? How do you know?

We analyzed a sketch by Jack Dee and we were all surprised to discover that we had identified between 15 and 20 different techniques being he deployed.




(This sketch does have a nice legal element by the way!)

Besides writing the material, one of the most difficult processes is identifying one's persona and being prepared to develop it. Now persona isn't just something you pluck out of the air and say that's me. No, it comes from within.

Through the process of writing and speaking, it emerges. It almost unfolds like a new flower. At first the colors are light and unformed, then it matures and takes on its true form. With persona you don't know quite what you are going to get. I am finding that mine is not quite what I thought it would be.

I naturally thought mine would be sophisticated with an urbane touch, but it isn't. It's different. One clue: it's rougher than that. In order for the persona to develop it has to be authentic, which is why you can't merely create it out of thin air. Peter Cook really was like his character in Derek & Clive, at times.

Your persona can surprise you.

I mentioned teaching because despite all the training that's around these days, most of it ignores these aspects. We hardly ever think about how we present ourselves to our students. Are we conscious of our persona in class? I doubt it. Or what's our persona when presenting a paper to your faculty? Again I have doubts.

Let me wrap up with an email I received from a former student who heard I was doing this class: "Are you seriously taking a comedy class? You used to scare us in class. I suppose that's an improvement." I leave you to deconstruct that as you like.
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3 comments:

angelin said...

Chicago Underground Comedy continues its tradition of exceptionally strong booking this week, featuring local all-stars Fay Canale, Robert Buscemi, Brendan Mcgowan, Carrie Callahan, Marty DeRosa and national headliner Dwayne Kennedy. Canale and Callahan are the lineup’s femme fatales, but their styles are so different they could be called opposites. Canale is brash, crass and unflinchingly confrontational.
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Monkey Mind said...

Please keep the posts going on this course. It's fascinating! The comments on one's persona has certainly made me think...

John Flood said...

I'm keeping this thread running. It helps me make sense of what I'm doing. Thanks, John