Three weeks ago, Dr. Janna Goodwin, four talented members of OutRegis!, and I traveled to Loveland, Colorado for the Rocky Mountain Communication Association conference to present a method for marrying comedy and critical dialogue. After I gave a talk that basically crammed a school year’s worth of work into fifteen minutes, we moved into a demonstration of the aforementioned method.
Part one consisted of performing three sketches that encompassed several of the most provoking topics OutRegis! has addressed in the last few years, including race, classroom dialogue, bisexual erasure, family acceptance, and mental illness. It was interesting to watch the conference attendee’s reactions to these sketches, as they were all written for an audience of college students at Regis University. Several moments that have previously pulled big laughs at Regis were met with silence. (In addition to the lack of proper context, I think this is partially because of the serious setting; few people come to a conference presentation with a playful mindset.)
We followed the sketches with a dialogue about the issues presented, much like we would in a normal show setting. Not surprisingly, the room full of academics gravitated toward the sketch that addressed dialogue about race in a classroom setting. I was taken aback by a debate that formed over whether the scene was “authentic”; some said that would never happen in their classrooms, while others shared several anecdotes involving similar situations. In addition, context came into play again when an attendee expressed concern over proper representation. Janna and I explained that we work with affinity groups and do the best we can, but it was clear that talking about this anywhere but the Regis campus was going to be difficult.
Finally, Janna and Dr. Sue Sci lead a wrap-up discussion that explored the dialogue process in another light. This made me more optimistic than the rest of the presentation. Overall, the group seemed to respond well to the process and had hope for its success. It was lovely to hear a room full of academics critically explain why they agreed with us and offer suggestions to carry the research forward.
Personally, I’m intensely interested in the idea of comedy being “authentic”. I’ve never known comedy to be completely “authentic”. It often contains truth (“It’s funny because it’s true!”) but I’ve always thought comedy required some degree of exaggeration, understatement, volta, or other modification. Telling life as-is belongs to an entirely different genre: drama. It’s interesting to consider how much truth comedy can contain to be funniest, though. Does a grain of truth suffice in an ridiculous premise? Is too much truth the thing that puts satirists at risk of attack? Would the classroom sketch have been funnier if it was more or less outrageous?
I have no idea, but now I do have an independent study proposal for next semester.*
*This is a joke. I’m maxed on independent studies, according to Regis.