“You Gotta Laugh: Teaching Critical Thinking via Comedy”

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While there is ample evidence that students in higher education benefit from an instructor’s judicious use of humor in lectures and teaching materials, there is less analysis available about the benefits to student critical thinking and communication of making a formal study of the mechanisms of comedy. I created a new, first-year, general-education course for my students titled “Laughing Matters: Comedy and Satire,” because I believe such a topic is truly interdisciplinary, asking students to come to a sophisticated understanding of the interaction of psychological, sociological, historical, cultural, and artistic critical processes, while engaging actively in a classroom dynamic that requires and fosters listening, tolerance, and cooperation. Because the material of performed and literary comedy is often confrontational and offensive, such a course enables students to “lean in” to the discomfort that conversations about racism, sexism, and political debate can cause, armed with a critical apparatus and a meta-discussion of how complex cognitive processes can create productive cultural exchange. I offer descriptions of some of the readings and exercises in the course, with student responses that confirm for me that they value the critical insights developed in this course, enhanced by their enjoyment of the course’s entertaining content.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-351
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2019


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