Location: thh116 Instructor: Louise Peacock

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Comedy and Performance 197g

Spring Semester 2016 Monday and Wednesday 4 – 5.50pm

Location: THH116
Instructor: Louise Peacock

Office: JEF

Office Hours: 2- 3pm Mondays

Contact Info: lpeacock@usc.edu
Teaching Assistant or Assistant Instructor: Ashley Steed.

Contact Info: Email, phone number (office, cell), Skype, etc.

Course Description and Overview

This GE course will provide students with an overview and understanding of the history and performance of comedy. Using examples from as far back as Greek Theatre and as current as Modern Family, students will be encouraged to identify and understand the distinctive features, techniques and themes of comedy performance. Through many manifestations including the pantomimes of the Greek and Roman periods, the Commedia dell’Arte of the Renaissance, the flourishing of the circus, the great age of silent comedy in cinema, and the postwar screen era, comedy in performance has evolved in multiple forms as a response to prevailing conditions while maintaining many primary functions, including satire, celebration, and social commentary. The course explores in depth many of the most important and influential periods and differing strains of comic performance, addressing the discipline in terms of creation and execution as envisaged by writers, actors, clowns, comedians, and directors.

Learning Objectives

  1. To analyze the form and content of comic material across a range of historic periods and to investigate the impact of comedy on audiences

  2. To make connections between the comedy of different periods, identifying the social, political and cultural contexts in which the work was created and performed.

  3. To enrich the student’s discernment of creative production by increasing knowledge of its theoretical, historical, and aesthetic bases across history and cultures.

Prerequisite(s): course(s) that must be taken prior to this course

Co-Requisite (s): course(s) that must be taken prior to or simultaneously

Concurrent Enrollment: course(s) that must be taken simultaneously

Recommended Preparation: course work or background that is advisable, not mandatory

Required Readings and Supplementary Materials
For required reading and viewing please see breakdown of class schedule. All viewing and reading should be carried out PRIOR to the class for which is it indicated.

Description of Grading Criteria and Assessment of Assignments
Each assignment (3 Critical Papers + the Midterm and Final essays) will receive a letter grade. The word count for each assignment is 2000 words.
Grading Scale:
A  Work of excellent quality

B  Work of good quality

C  Work of average quality

D  Work of below average quality

F  Inadequate work

Assignment Submission Policy: All Critical Paper assignments to be submitted via Turnitin on Blackboard. Due dates are as follows:

Assignment 1 Friday January 29th midnight

Assignment 2 Friday February 19th midnight

Assignment 3 Friday April 8th midnight

Midterm takes place in class on Wednesday 9th March

The Final Examination date is May 4th 4.30 – 6.30pm

No late assignments, projects, exams, or papers shall be accepted unless advance extensions have been arranged between the student and the teacher or unless exceptional circumstances occur.

Course Schedule: A Weekly Breakdown

Block 1

What is Comedy?

Week 1


Introduction – What is Comedy?

Week 1


Comedy now: Theatre – scripted and improvised

Reading: Clybourne Park (available in the bookstore)

Week 2


Martin Luther King’s Birthday – No Class

Week 2 Wednesday

Comedy now: Television

  • Viewing: Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show

Week 3


Comedy now: Film

  • Viewing: The Big Lebowski (available via Ares)

  • Reading: The Companion to Film Comedy edited by Andrew Horton and Joanna Rapf, pages 315 – 339 (available as an online edition via the library catalogue).

Week 3


Musical Comedy:

Reading The World of Musical Comedy by Stanley Green, pages 263-284 (available via ARES)

Comedy Round-up: techniques, devices, themes.

Assignment 1

Examine the function of comedy in contemporary society.

Block 2

Popular Comic Performance

Week 4


Commedia dell’Arte – History and Performance

  • Reading: Commedia dell’Arte: An Actor’s Handbook by John Rudlin, pages 13 – 33 (available via ARES)

Week 4


Commedia dell’Arte – Masks, Plots and Influence

Reading: A Servant to Two Masters by Lee Hall and Carlo Goldoni (available in the bookstore).

Week 5



  • Reading: Pantomime by Millie Taylor, pp. 33 – 49 (available as online edition via library catalogue).

Week 5


Circus Clowns

  • Reading: Serious Play: Modern Clown Performance by Louise Peacock, pp 41 – 63 (available via ARES)

Week 6


Presidents’ Day – No Class

Week 6


Music Hall and Vaudeville

  • Reading: No Applause – Just Throw Money by S.D. Trav, pages 54 – 81 (available via ARES)

Assignment 2

Examine the techniques used by the creators and performers of popular comedy. What connections or contrasts can you identify in different historical periods?

Block 3

Physical Comedy and Slapstick

Week 7


Silent Comedy

  • Viewing:

    • Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (on course reserve)

    • Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr (on course reserve)

Week 7


Film Comedy

  • Viewing: Home Alone (available to view online via library catalogue)

Week 8



  • Reading: The Nerd by Larry Shue (available in the bookstore)

Week 8


Television Comedy: Sitcoms, Sketch Shows and Animation

  • Viewing: Some Mothers Do ‘Ave Em, I Love Lucy, The Simpsons

  • Reading: Popular Film and Television Comedy by Krutnik and Neale pages 10 – 43 (available via ARES)

Week 9


Why Pain and Violence can be funny.

  • Reading: No Pain No Gain: The Provocation of Laughter in Slapstick Comedy by Louise Peacock. Can be accessed online:


Week 9


Midterm in class essay: Drawing on of the material covered this far, explore the techniques, structures and thematic concerns used by writers and performers to provoke laughter.

Block 4

Establishing Comic Traditions

Week 10


Greek Theatre

  • Reading: The Frogs by Aristophanes. Can be accessed online:


Week 10


Roman Theatre

Reading: The Brothers Menaechmi by Plautus. Can be accessed online:


Week 11


Shakespeare’s Comic Devices


Week 11


Shakespeare’s Fools

  • Viewing: Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night
  • Reading: Performing Natural Folly: the Jests of Lean Leanard and the Touchstones of Robert Armin and David Tennant by Peter Cockett. Can be accessed online:


Week 12


Restoration Comedy

  • Reading: The Country Wife by William Wycherley


Week 12 Wednesday

Comedy of Manners


Assignment 3

Compare the differing approaches to humor exhibited between either Aristophanes or Plautus and any one from Shakespeare, Wycherley and Wilde.

Block 5

Political and Social Comedy

Week 13


Satire: Social and Political

  • Reading: Comedy by Andrew Stott, pp 149 – 170 (available via Ares)

Week 13 Wednesday

Theatrical Satire:

  • Reading: The Irresistible rise of Arturo Ui by Bertolt Brecht and Trumpets and Raspberries by Dario Fo (available in the bookstore)

Week 14


Stand-up comedy: Political and Social Satire

  • Viewing: Joan Rivers, Lewis Black, Chris Rock,

  • Reading: Satire: Spirit and Art by George Austin, pages 7 – 36 (available via ARES)

Week 14


Film Satire

  • Viewing: Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove or How I learned to Love the Bomb

Week 15


Television Satire:

  • Viewing: South Park, The Colbert Show, Saturday Night Live

Week 15 Wednesday

Comic Conclusions

Accessing Reading and Viewing Material
All reading listed above details where it can be accessed either online, via ARES or at the bookstore.
YouTube links for viewing before the lecture will be provided via Blackboard.
All clips shown in lectures will also be made available as YouTube links via Blackboard.
All PowerPoints will be made available via Blackboard after the lecture has taken place.
Final Examination Date: May 4th 4.30 – 6.30pm
FINAL  Examination: ​Explore two contrasting examples of comic performance covered during this course. Make connections and comparisons between them, and address both their function and their impact on their audience. Are comic performances designed to alter the mechanisms of society, or to
reinforce them?

Statement on Academic Conduct and Support Systems
Academic Conduct

Plagiarism – presenting someone else’s ideas as your own, either verbatim or recast in your own words – is a serious academic offense with serious consequences.  Please familiarize yourself with the discussion of plagiarism in SCampus in Section 11, Behavior Violating University Standardshttps://scampus.usc.edu/1100-behavior-violating-university-standards-and-appropriate-sanctions/.  Other forms of academic dishonesty are equally unacceptable.  See additional information in SCampus and university policies on scientific misconduct, http://policy.usc.edu/scientific-misconduct/.

Discrimination, sexual assault, and harassment are not tolerated by the university.  You are encouraged to report any incidents to the Office of Equity and Diversity http://equity.usc.edu/ or to the Department of Public Safety http://capsnet.usc.edu/department/department-public-safety/online-forms/contact-us.  This is important for the safety whole USC community.  Another member of the university community – such as a friend, classmate, advisor, or faculty member – can help initiate the report, or can initiate the report on behalf of another person.  The Center for Women and Men http://www.usc.edu/student-affairs/cwm/ provides 24/7 confidential support, and the sexual assault resource center webpage sarc@usc.edu describes reporting options and other resources.

Support Systems

A number of USC’s schools provide support for students who need help with scholarly writing.  Check with your advisor or program staff to find out more.  Students whose primary language is not English should check with the American Language Institute http://dornsife.usc.edu/ali, which sponsors courses and workshops specifically for international graduate students.

The Office of Disability Services and Programs http://sait.usc.edu/academicsupport/centerprograms/dsp/home_index.htmlprovides certification for students with disabilities and helps arrange the relevant accommodations.  If an officially  declared emergency makes travel to campus infeasible, USC Emergency Information http://emergency.usc.edu/will provide safety and other updates, including ways in which instruction will be continued by means of blackboard, teleconferencing, and other technology.

Syllabus for Comedy and Performance (THTR 197g), Page of 7

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