English 732: Literary Conventions of Humor
"Notes on Literary Humor"
Fall 2017 / SCAD-Atlanta
Students explore the conventions of using humor in literary form. How do writers make us laugh in memoir, novels, screenplays and other literary genres, and what do these techniques have in common with the conventions of other comedic pursuits such as standup and sketch comedy? Students examine classic and contemporary work and study the evolution of humor across genres and centuries.
Specific Course Description: “Notes on Literary Humor”
Part of studying humor in literature and learning the literary conventions of humor is discovering and identifying one’s own sense or style of humor. Personally, my humor has much in common with the hyperbolic, highly referential humor known as “camp.” As such, the organizational logic of this course comes from Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay “Notes on ‘Camp.’” Each week, we will approach the study of humor in literature via “notes” on various types of humor as evidenced in our class readings, writings, and other activities. In so doing, you will identify, harness, and develop your own senses of humor and humorous writing styles.
The following course goals articulate the general objectives and purpose of this course:
1. Students will be exposed to classic and contemporary works of literary humor, including short forms (essays, short
stories) and long forms (memoirs, novels, scripts).
2. Students will learn how to identify literary tropes and how they are used in literary humor and other comedic
pursuits, including sketch comedy.
3. Students will explore the style of influential literary humorists and writers and learn how to identify and assess
literary and rhetorical techniques.
Student Learning Outcomes
The following course outcomes indicate competencies and measurable skills that students develop as a result of completing this course:
1. Students will identify and analyze literary tropes and techniques across common literary genres.
2. Students will classify the different modes of literary humor, including the narrative mode and the conceptual
3. Students will research, document and deliver oral presentations and written papers explaining the use of literary
and stylistic techniques by classic and contemporary humorists.
Blackboard Discussion Groups (post before class).
Texts to purchase/ source
I recommend sites like alibris.com. You may, however, purchase these through
your e-readers or source them through local libraries.
1) Chen Chen, When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities (2017) ISBN 978-1942683339
2) Issa Rae, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl (2015) ISBN 978-1476749075
3) Dany Laferriére, How to Make Love to a Negro without Getting Tired
(1987 translation) ISBN- 13- 978-1-5536-5585-5
4) John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces (1980) ISBN 13- 978-
Richard Hugo, The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing (2010) ISBN 978-0393338720
Patrick McManus, The Deer on a Bicycle: Excursions into the Writing of Humor (2000) ISBN-13: 978-0910055628
English 732 Grading and Assignments
I will grade on a ten-point scale.
Writing Assignments (30%)
A writing exercise is assigned in coordination with each day’s reading. After lecture and discussion on a particular humor writing technique found in the assigned readings, students will spend some time trying their hand at adapting the technique in their own writing. Following this, we will reconvene as a class to workshop one student together, then break into groups so that all class members receive feedback on their writing exercise. Each class member will get at least one class workshop and numerous group workshops.
Every class member must provide oral feedback to his classmates during workshop. As a class, we will discuss one piece by each student over the course of the quarter in the style of a comedy writing group, similar to the way that writers for sketch comedy shows such as Saturday Night Live develop their ideas for each week’s live performance. In addition, in groups we will provide oral feedback for every class member for each writing exercise we complete.
Revision and Final Written Project (20%)
Students will select one exercise from the work they produce in class to revise and polish, based on the feedback provided by the class and/or their group members. At the end of the quarter, students will submit their revised work to me and present the piece in a final class reading.
Students will consult with the professor on an additional written component to be submitted at the end of the quarter. This could take the form of a research paper or annotated bibliography stemming from your oral presentations.
Forum Discussion (10%)
Prior to each class meeting, students will engage in a forum discussion on Blackboard about the assigned reading. Students are required to post a minimum of twice to each forum, and at least one of those posts must be to present the student’s own original thoughts in relation to the forum prompt, which I will provide. The second post can be in response to an idea by another classmate, or it can be another original idea. All posts must further the online discussion in a substantial and meaningful way. In other words, post such as “I agree,” or “I disagree” and other vague or pointless posts won’t count. The forum discussions will take place prior to the start of class and the forum will “close” one hour before class start time.
Final Reading Performance and Course Choice Text Participation (5%)
On the last day of the quarter, students will present one of their revised pieces for an oral performance. Students are not required to memorize their work, but if among the work presented is a stand-up routine, memorization is recommended. In addition, this grade includes participation in the course choice text presentation during the final week of class.
Participation and Class Oral Presentation (10%)
Students should attend class on a regular basis. Additionally, they should be actively engaged in classroom discussion and workshops. The Field Trip is also included in the Participation grade. Students are required to participate verbally in class, especially during workshops.
SCADFash Assignment (5%)
Students will visit SCAD's Fashion museum exhibit of work by Guo Pei. Observe the work carefully and take detailed notes on its construction, dimensions, fabric, weight (if available), colors, etcetera. Write a sketch imagining everyday people wearing unadulterated Guo Pei designs while doing everyday things: going to the post office, or grocery shopping, jogging in the park, going out for lunch.
10/05: Chen Chen, When I Grow Up I Want to be a List of Further Possibilities
“Second Thoughts on a Winter Afternoon” (44)
10/06: Notes on Code-switching: When is funny not funny?
Make up class
Issa Rae, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Introduction–“When You
Louisa May Alcott, “Transcendental Wild Oats” (1873)
10/10: Notes on Ribald (“Blue Humor”), Notes on Classic Humor
Issa Rae, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, “Hair Hierarchy”–“Public
Displays of Affection”
Geoffrey Chaucer, “The Miller’s Tale” (PDF emailed)
Mark Twain, “A Literary Nightmare"
Mark Twain, “At the Funeral”
Mark Twain, “On the Decay of the Art of Lying”
Robert L. Middlekauff, “Mark Twain’s Humor–With Examples”
(Watch in Class): Mark Twain, “How to Tell a Story,”
Discuss in Class: French Fabuleau
Grad Student Presentation 1: The First Humorist: Geoffrey Chaucer/ The
First American Humorist: Mark Twain
WRITING EXERCISE: Option 1: Tell the Tale: Create a character like Chaucer’s
Miller. Use ribald, bawdy, Monty Python-esque humor in depicting this character’s
trials and tribulations. You may think of this as a narrative fable. Option 2: Draft a
humorous personal or fictional story set in a traditionally non-humorous setting
(like Twain’s Funeral).
Goal: Venture into the waters of writing different kinds of humor that are not
personally set or derived.
10/12: Notes on Macabre and “Black”/ “Dark” Humor
Issa Rae, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, “African Dad”–“Musical
Ambitions and Failures”
Flannery O’Connor, “Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction” (BB
Truman Capote, “Nocturnal Turnings: Or How Siamese Twins Have Sex” (BB
Grad Student Presentation 2: Grotesque Humor: Flannery O’Connor,
Truman Capote, and Various other “Freaks” and Geeks
WRITING EXERCISE: Vampires, zombies, and True Blood, oh my! O’Connor tells
us that we here in the South are still able to recognize “freaks” and that’s why we
write so many grotesque characters. In this exercise, write a humorous story
depicting “freaks” or other types of “twisted” characters. Think Scary Movie as a
spoof example of this genre.
Goal: Many of you claim to be dark, but humor does not only have to be the “laugh
out loud” variety. How can the dark, twisted, be humorous? How can darkness shed
light on the comical?
10/ 17: Notes on Parody, “Parroting,” Mimicry, Call and Response
Issa Rae, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, “The Struggle–Finish
Dany Laferriére, How to Make Love to a Negro without Getting Tired (1–90)
In class clips: I am Not Your Negro (d. Raoul Peck); Michael
Richards controversy (more TBD)
WRITING EXERCISE: Pick a subject, genre, text, or (____) and draft a parody or
pastiche of it.
Goal: Often, we learn best by imitating others. A parody or a pastiche is an
imitation. However, imitation need not only be flattery. It can often contain a harsh
critique or commentary (as in Laferriére).
10/19: Notes on Irony
How to Make Love to a Negro without Getting Tired (90–Close)
Junot Diaz, “How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie”
from Drown (BB PDF)
WRITING EXERCISE: Draft a humorous “how-to” manual using a topic/subject
of your choice.
Goal: Although aimed to educate and inform, “How-To” manuals often ironically
reduce complex issues to digestible tid-bits. Complicate the “how-to” genre via your
specific humorous/ironic intervention.
10/24: Notes on Camp
Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp”
Oscar Wilde, “A Few Maxims for the Instruction of the Over-Educated”
Tennessee Williams “And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens”
“Filmmaker John Waters on How to Make Trouble,” NPR
Grad Student Presentation 3: Queer Humor (On Camp): Oscar
Wilde, Tennessee Williams, John Waters
WRITING EXERCISE: Camp is exaggeration. Draft a dialogic scene (perhaps
similar to the one in Williams) and pump up the volume. Exaggerate. Be hyperbolic.
Play with amplified humor, even if it feels uncomfortable. As a dialogue, add
parenthetical stage directions to practice including physical comedy in your writing.
Example: Pain as humor.
Goal: Practice drafting sketch comedies and other types of performative humor.
10/26: Notes on Satire / Social Commentary
Jonathan Swift, “Thoughts on Various Subjects Moral and Diverting” (very end
of this link,
A Confederacy of Dunces (Chapters 1–7)
In Class: Perform Dialogic scenes from last class. Goal: Practice comedic timing
through performance and audience reception.
WRITING EXERCISE: Pick a social topic or cultural milieu and critique it using
biting humor or ironic wit.
Goal: Bring comedy into the service of social change. How can humor be used to
leverage social/ political change?
10/27 (Make up class)
A Confederacy of Dunces (Chapters 7–12)
WRITING EXERCISE: Pick a scene or moment from Toole’s novel and “re-write”
it to be funnier, darker, exaggerated, more ironic, etc. Re-write the scene utilizing
the style of humor you feel is your signature. Goal: To practice methods of editing
work to be “funnier” while silmultaneously shaping your own comedic voice.
A Confederacy of Dunces (Chapters 12–Finish)
David Sedaris, (choose a short text of your choice
to share in class)
WRITING EXERCISE: Write a script for a social parody video like those on Funny
or Die or SNL or an article for a venue such as Clickhole. Alternatively, discuss a
character from literature that seems to be present only for comic relief. (Think of a
character like Hagrid in Harry Potter or C-3PO in Star Wars). How does this
character add or detract from the work?
Goal: Continue skills in leveraging comedy as satire. When does satire become
11/2: Notes on Wit and Pith (Tweet)
Tony Hoagland, “A Color of the Sky”
“25 of Dorothy Parker’s Best Quotes” (http://mentalfloss.com/article/52358/25-
Dorothy Parker poems.
Sheryl St. Germain, “Things My Mother Always Told Me” (Poem on BB)
“Classic Books in 140 Characters,”
Grad Student Presentation 4: Witty Humor: Dorothy Parker, Tony
Hoagland (and possibly other comic poets; see
Poems-Everymans-Library-Pocket/dp/0375413545 for inspiration)
WRITING EXERCISE: Write a list of witty or pithy maxims (listed numerically or
written in verse). Try to keep your maxims into Twitter’s format of 140 characters
Goal: Reflect on Shakespeare’s maxim “brevity is the soul of wit” in thinking about
comic timing and concise writing.
11/7: Notes on Grit and “Folk”
Allen Gurganus, “Nativity, Caucasian,” from White People (BB)
Bobbie Ann Mason, “Shiloh”
Joel Chandler Harris, “Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby”
Zora Neale Hurston, Chapter 7 from Mules and Men (BB)
William Faulkner, “Don Giovanni” and “Carcassonne” (BB)
Watch in Class: “Song of the South”
WRITING EXERCISE: Revision Day. Select a previous writing exercise response
and revise it. If you choose one from the first 3 weeks, make sure to provide the
instructor with the original version.
11/9: Notes on Graphic / Visual Humor
Comic Book Day
View Before class:
Bone: Out from Boneville
View in Class:
• Bitch Planet
• Stuck Rubber Baby
• Dykes to Watch Out For
Karen Russell, “Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating” from
Vampires in the Lemon Grove; “Out to Sea” from St. Lucy’s Home for Girls
Raised by Wolves (BB)
Grad Student Presentation 5: Graphic and Visual Humor: Choose 2
humorous graphic novelists to share with the class.
WRITING EXERCISE: Create an illustrated narrative in a medium of your choice
that makes use of visual humor in sequence. (You will, most likely, need to begin
with a script/storyboard). For digital comic creators, see Instructor or your peers.
Goal: How can you translate scripted/written humor to visual form? What changes
with the method of composition?
11/14: Course Choice Texts and Humor Presentations
Pick a work of literature that you find humorous in some (big or small) way. Bring this
example to share with the class on 11/14. Prepare a brief presentation of 2-3 minutes
similar to my own and the ones our graduate student colleagues have modeled over the quarter.
My selection and model: DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little (2003)
WRITING EXERCISE: Notes On… (_____). How would you fill in that blank?
What would you put in those parentheses? What is your “brand” of humor? Draft a
2-3-page essay to read to the class. Alternatively, draft a “sketch” script to perform.
Goal: Create your own summary of the class and a “manifesto” of your particular
brand of humor.
11/16: Course Choice Texts and Humor Presentations
Part One: Notes On… (_____). Read/perform last class’s writing exercise.
Part Two: Read/ Perform Your Revised Piece.
Read, Mark Twain, “Hunting the Deceitful Turkey,”
WRITING EXERCISE: Draft a funny holiday story (fictional, nonfictional,
Goal: Levity. Prepare yourselves for the (lol, biting, ironic, satirical, farcical) humor
of holiday dinners.
You must attend the following event (or the SCAD FASH Museum field trip)
The following events take place at SCADShow and start at 7 PM:
9/25: Celeste Ng
For presentations by established authors: Take notes throughout the presenter’s lecture/performance, and feel free to take phone photos during the event (if allowed). Take note of how the presenter gained the audience’s attention and trust and commanded both throughout the event. How did the presenter compose his or herself? How did they utilize gestures and body language? Did he/she merely read directly from their work, or did they engage with the audience in an unscripted way? Which did you prefer, and why? Post your notes to the class discussion forum on Blackboard, and be prepared to discuss the event and your experience of it in the following class meeting.
Field Trip to the SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion and Film
9/25 @4 PM
While on the field trip to the SCAD FASH Museum, take notes about the things you experience: Look specifically for works on display that utilize humor in any form. What makes the piece funny? Is it evident that the designer/artist intended for the work to be interpreted as funny? If so, why? If not, why do you suppose the designer/artist did not see that the work could be viewed as humorous? Using your notes, write a piece that documents your trip in a travelogue, but one that makes fun of the trope of the travelogue: Imaging you're like Rick Steves, the guy who makes travelogue documentaries for countries and towns in Europe for PBS. Imagine that you're Rick Steves visiting the SCAD FASH Museum: Write the script for a mocumentary trip to the SCAD FASH Museum.
Extra Help Session(s)
I'll be hosting the following extra help sessions during the quarter (all at Ivy Hall):
10/27: Incorporating Research (10AM - 11AM) SCAD Main Campus (prior to make-up class that day)
11/09: Reading and Performance Techniques (10AM-11AM) SCAD Ivy Hall (prior to class)
Extended Learning Opportunities
9/19: Writing Studio Workshop: 5 PM Rm. 376: Yes, Please and Thank You! Winning Hearts through Respectful Communication
9/27: Writing Studio Workshop: 5 PM Rm 376: Know thy Selfie: Tips for Mastering Social Media
9/29: Writing Studio Workshop: 3 PM Rm. 376: Finding Your Way: Best Practices for New Writer
10/11: Writing Studio Workshop: 5 PM Rm 376: On the Shoulders of Giants: Applying Research to Original Thought
10/25: Writing Studio Workshop: 5 PM Rm 376: May the Source Be with You: Generate Thoughtful Conclusions Through Research
10/27: Writing Studio Workshop: 3 PM, Rm 376: Finding the Time: Habits of the Successful Multi-tasker
Other Course Information
***Work completed in class cannot be made up in the case of absences. Late assignments will be accepted in person or through email up to 12 hours after the due date (the beginning of class on the scheduled due date). Late assignments are automatically deducted by 10%. Late work will no longer be accepted after the 12-hour grace period.
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3. Submission of the same work in two or more classes without prior written approval of the professors of the classes involved.
4. Submission of any work not actually produced by the student submitting the work without full and clear written acknowledgement of the actual author or creator of the work.
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Only students who are properly registered for a course may attend and participate in that class. Students are expected to attend and participate in all scheduled classes and examination periods. Absences in excess of four class periods per quarter, or 20 percent of the course, result in the student receiving a failing grade for the course. Tardiness, early departure or other time away from class in excess of 15 minutes per class session is considered absence for the class session.
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Each student enrolled in the course will have a midterm conference scheduled outside of class time with the professor. Students are expected to keep this appointment.
Academic Support and Tutoring:
Academic support for students at all SCAD locations can be found in MySCAD, under the Student Workspace tab, Department Directory, Academic Resources.
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