Foreign Languages & Literature

What's So Funny? (Full)

Anthony Ciccone, Professor

Course: FLL 192, SEM 001
Class Number: 40041
Credits: 3 HU
Time: 3:30 – 4:45 PM
Place: CRT 303

Course Description:

What makes something funny? What are the essential characteristics? Why do we laugh anyway? Why don't we all laugh at the same things? How come we can find something funny one time but not another? Can we be manipulated into laughing at something or someone we might not otherwise find funny? Do we always laugh for the same reasons? Does our laughter always express the same emotions? What makes a good comedy in the first place? What roles do comedy and laughter play in our personal lives and in society as a whole? How do we construct answers to these questions? In this course, we'll attempt to answer these and other questions about comedy and laughter.

Work Involved:

  • Most importantly, by the end of the class you’ll develop a personal theory of comedy and laughter based on class discussion, readings, and your own research and reflection on what needs to be included in a good understanding of these concepts. You’ll also reflect on the process of developing this theory. In order to do this,
  • You'll analyze plays, TV sitcoms, and other forms of comedy for their similarities and differences.
  • You'll examine and critique historical and contemporary attempts to understand comedy and laughter.
  • You'll develop your own emerging understanding of these concepts and present it orally and in writing.
  • You'll discuss and write about questions related to comedy and laughter in a variety of ways.
  • You’ll reflect on what you learn and how your thinking about comedy and laughter changes over time.

Required Work:

  • Attendance at two out-of-class events, e.g., ComedySportz and local theatre performance
  • active participation in class discussions (15%)
  • Daily readings (included in participation above)
  • One-page written preparations for most class sessions (about 15 = 30%)
  • One class presentation on a comedy of your choice (with a partner) (5%)
  • Three (3) three-page papers, draft, final versions, and self-reflection(30%)
  • One (1) final project, including self-reflection (5-7 pages) (20%)

Sample Reading:

One main book, Comic Relief, A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor, John Morreall. Weekly readings on class topics, selected as needed.

About the Instructor:

As you can tell from this course description, I’m a person who enjoys comedy and laughter and discussing them with others. I appreciate most kinds but especially like clever language and self-deprecation. Ok, I admit I get a laugh out of slapstick and sarcasm, too, but it has to be clever and you have to surprise me! Still enjoy The Simpsons Robin Williams (you’ll find both in this class) but enjoy getting others to appreciate more traditional comedies, especially theatre. At UWM, I also direct the teaching center, where I work with graduate students, staff and faculty to improve learning for everyone. The First-Year Seminar Program is one of my shared responsibilities and pleasures. I have two great children – Emily (26) who’s in Medical School at Madison and Mark (22) who’s a senior at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Both of them would be embarrassed to know that I included them in this bio. In my spare time, I prefer a good round of golf. Someday, I may have one…