The 2015 Humor Seminar

humor2Curious about what the nine fellows at the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities are doing in the spring research seminar?  Here’s a look at our syllabus that includes detailed study of topics like satire, nonsense, pain, internet trolls, and vaudeville.  The seminar is closed to the public, but in the coming weeks we’ll feature blog and Facebook posts about our work.


Seminar Schedule

Week 1 (8/26)

What’s Funny?

Read:  Simon Critchley, On Humor

Watch:  Chaplin, Modern Times (1936)


Week 2 (9/2)

Humor, Comedy, Zaniness, and Laughter

Read:  Sianne Ngai, “The Zany Science,” from Our Aesthetic Categories

Watch: I Love Lucy  (“The Marriage License,” “The Ballet,” “Lucy Does a TV Commercial” )

Week 3 (9/9)


Read: Selections from Edward Lear’s Complete Verse and Other Nonsense, ed. Vivien Noakes (Penguin)

Read:  Susan Stewart’s Nonsense: Aspects of Intertextuality in Folklore and Literature

Read:  Jean-Jacques LeCercle, The Philosophy of Nonsense.


Week 4 (9/16)

Satire and Sex 

View: Marcantonio Raimondi after Giulio Romano, I Modi [The Positions], originally engraved c. 1524.

View:  Monogrammist CLF after Francesco Salviati, The Triumph of the Phallus, original design from the 16th century.

View:  Giacomo Franco, Da questa sorte sono i buon salami [This is the good kind of salami], 1580-90.

View:  Philippe Thomassin, after Giovanni Giacomo de’ Rossi, O Zanolina mia, è meglio la fava che il fiore [Oh Zanolina my beautiful girl, the bean is better than the flower], c. 1595

View:  Plate with a Woman and a Basket of Phallic Fruits, first quarter of the 16th century Francesco Urbini (attributed to), Phallic-head plate, 1536

Read:  Paul Barolsky, “Mannerist Bizzarrie” in Infinite Jest: Wit and Humor in Italian Renaissance Art, pp. 101-138.

Read:  Catalog entries on I Modi from Art and Love in Renaissance Italy, ed. Andrea Bayer. Cat. num.: 99, 100 

Read: Selections from Pietro Aretino’s Sonnetti lussorosi 

Read:  Sara Matthews-Grieco “Satyrs and sausages: erotic strategies and the print market in Cinquecento Italy” in Erotic Cultures of Renaissance Italy, pp. 19-60.

Read:  Catalog entries on lascivious prints and ceramics from Art and Love in Renaissance Italy, ed. Andrea Bayer. Cat. num.: 102, 106, 109, 110, 111

Week 5 (9/23)

Satire and Enlightenment 

Read:  Introduction to Satire by Leonard Feinberg, pp. 3-19

Read:  A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift (1729)

Read:  The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope (1714)

Week 6 (9/30)

Satire: Why Don’t They Get It?

Read: Selections from Nieman Reports 58.4

Background:  Gulliver’s Travels

Week 7 (10/7)

Mistrusting Humor

Read:  Postman, from Amusing Ourselves to Death

Read:  Gans, from Popular Culture and High Culture

Read: Arendt, “Society and Culture”

Watch:  Sturgis, Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

Week 8 (10/14)

Special Event

Attend: Literary Death Match

Week 9 (10/21)

Humor and the Everyday 

Read:  Detweiler, Eric. ““I Was Just Doing A Little Joke There”: Irony And The Paradoxes Of The Sitcom In The Office.” Journal Of Popular Culture 45.4 (2012): 727-748.

Watch:  The Office (U.S.), Episode 1.1 “Pilot”

Watch:  Parks and Recreation, Episode 1.1 “Pilot”

Watch:  Last Week Tonight With John Oliver: Net Neutrality

Week 10 (10/28)

Humor and Digital Life

Read:  Whitney Phillips, from This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

Special Guest: Whitney Phillips

Week 11 (11/4)


View: Vaudeville

View: Nicholas Brothers, Stormy Weather (YouTube)

View:  Tommy Tiernan (TBD)

Read: Writing for Vaudeville (excerpts)

Week 12 (11/11)

Humor and Pain

Watch: Seinfeld, “The Yada Yada”

Watch: Bill Irwin, “The Clown Bagatelles”

Read: CJS Hayward, “Humor Delivers Pain”

Read: Trevor Griffiths, The Comedians

Week 13 (11/18)

Humor and Mental Illness

Read:  Gelkopf, M. 2011. The use of humor in serious mental illness: a review. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Vol 2011, pp. 1-8.

Read:  Kuiper, N. 2012. Humor and Resiliency:  Towards a Process Model of Coping and Growth. Europe’s Journal of Psychology. Vol. 8(3), pp. 475-491.

Read:  Corrigan, P., et al. 2014. Does Humor Influence the Stigma of Mental Illnesses? Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease. Vol. 202(5), pp. 397-401.