Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Beyond A Joke.

Cycled across Richmond Park for a Teaching Stand-Up Comedy seminar at Roehampton University, to talk about some of the work we did with The Comedy School last year. It was really interesting. The focus was on the transferable academic skills that Stand-Up brings, which included the proposition that structuring a routine, paying attention to the precision of language, rhythm and word choice feeds back into formal essay writing. It's a fascinating idea. Many speakers stressed the connection between the timing of a punchline for maximum effect and the ability to command syntax in formal assessment. An effective gag, like a persuasive argument, is succinct, clear and truthful.

Stand-Up is a growing subject in Unis and all of us present are converted to its academic validity. There are, however, some interesting debates to be had. One revolved around taste, with the consensus being that there should be no taboo subjects for students to explore - but equally the right to call the material... You're out of order and an offensive Nazi!!! ... should also be allowed. Say what you like, but don't just hide behind the laughter of the mob - be prepared to justify your decisions.

Back at St.Mary's the staff were all called to a Dignity in the Workplace workshop, which included the recruitment of confidential colleagues, to whom we can go to if we're the victims of bullying or harassment. A kind of neighbourhood watch. The problem with this is it's divisive and, however well meaning, encourages half truth, rumour and finger pointing. I hate cruel or mean behaviour, but any imposed institutional policy only provides a false sense of security to victims as well as criminalising irreverence and playful banter. Respect comes in many forms.

Ultimately if we can laugh at each other, the quality of our lives together is increased immeasurably. Stand-Up can teach us to look at our flaws, celebrate them publicly and through this cathartic process live a more humane existence. To be immune to offense allows us to move onto the front foot with our hopes, dreams and ambitions... and then there's the performance skills including creating an intensely sensitive awareness of your audience, its moods, stamina and energy. In every way it seems an excellent discipline for students to explore.

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