Educational power of comedy...?

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JohnMc

  • Tuesday 13th August 2013, 2:40pm [Edited]
  • England
  • 3 posts

Hi all,

I work for an organisation that the Arts Council funds to promote creative & cultural learning experiences for children and young people. Having just got back from Edinburgh, I was pondering writing a piece about 'Why is comedy not taken seriously?' (around funding etc) or suchlike for our website.

However, I just saw a really good Guardian piece from a few years ago (http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2009/nov/03/comedy-funded-arts-council), so I'm going to focus more on the under-acknowledged educational value of comedy - the benefits that it potentially offers to a young person's (or anybody's, come to it!) cognitive/emotional/intellectual/ethical/social etc etc development.

From a personal perspective, some of the best, most moving, most intellectually stimulating 'art' that I've seen in recent years has been comedy-shaped. Daniel Kitson is I guess the totemic example; in terms of very recent experiences, I saw Bridget Christie's 'A Bic for Her' at the weekend, which totally blew my mind.

Does anybody have any particular views on this that they'd be happy to share (all quotes will be attributed!)? Could be raw opinions, actual evidence-based knowledge, your own experience of being changed, or precipitating change in others, through comedy, etc.

Don't worry if not! I appreciate that this is a bit 'niche interest', but I'll also post the link here when I've finished whatever I'm working on.

Cheers, John

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Aaron

  • Tuesday 13th August 2013, 5:17pm
  • Royal Berkshire, England
  • 68,746 posts

Hi John, interesting topic.

I think the runaway success of Video Arts highlights the value of comedy in educating people, communicating new concepts and ideas, making things more accessible.

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JohnMc

  • Friday 16th August 2013, 3:04pm [Edited]
  • England
  • 3 posts

Thanks for this Aaron. I got another comment on (a competitor forum that shall remain nameless) which was very useful, too, particularly around the increasing quality & complexity of comedy for at least partially for children on TV, and how this has evolved in the wake of leaps made in programming for adult audiences. Very interesting to consider The Simpsons (for instance) as a high water mark in sophisticated content that is accessible for children, and the potential impact of this.

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A Horseradish

  • Friday 16th August 2013, 4:49pm [Edited]
  • United Kingdom
  • 7,636 posts
Quote: JohnMc @ August 13 2013, 2:40 PM BST

Hi all,

I work for an organisation that the Arts Council funds to promote creative & cultural learning experiences for children and young people......I just saw a really good Guardian piece from a few years ago.....so I'm going to focus more on the under-acknowledged educational value of comedy - the benefits that it potentially offers to a young person's (or anybody's, come to it!). Does anybody have any particular views on this that they'd be happy to share....?

Cheers, John


Hello John

You've picked a good topic but it is very broad. What comedy? What age? What education? That's just the tip of the iceberg. Everyone has different ideas. In many ways that's a good thing. Too top heavy and it might just as well be a science or even biblical. My thoughts start with forum comments that intrigue me.

I read one along the lines that writers, performers and audiences know how comedy works now and that wasn't the case x number of years ago. Well, that might be a little true. You do, though, need to consider why the older stuff wins in league tables and the new is often the subject of complaints. I did expect many generational differences in that regard. They appear now to be overstated. Another person - young - cites a 1970s sitcom as the first thing that made him aware of humour at all. Frankly, that is just too awesome a comment for one individual to comment on but you are Arts Council. It is an ideal starting point for thinking.

When one looks at the pictures of newer comedy programmes on this website, many involved could be the bright young things in a boardroom or a gym. Some at least try to pull funny faces. Others can't be arsed. Very few look like the average person in the street, let alone naturally comical. By contrast, there really aren't many in the photos of the programmes made in the 1960s-1980s who would look comfortable in those power pumped areas. They were more normal. People are naturally funny - and they like identification with characters. Clones, by definition, are very narrow. So, perhaps particularly in this age of Gove, we need to free up comedy from academic rigour. It needs to emphasise spontaneity and often be less aspirational.

That takes us neatly onto education specifically. If knowledge and ability are overstressed, so too is age-related development. Yes, there is much to be said for the Simpsons. It is also not a bad thing to think about the nature of suitable content for adolescents. But that largely indicates a new obsessive sense in society that such things are never got right. Crucially what it misses is the concept of a childlike joy that should begin in life much earlier and be carried through every adulthood to the grave. It's good grounding.

For what can be absolutely guaranteed is this. Those who reach adulthood very early and without the prior building blocks of sunshine will be old at 40 and 50. Really old - and with consequential problems for society. Kids at 10 and 12 might think they know what they want but what they don't comprehend is that it means losing their individuality prematurely to the system, not that many begin with huge amounts anyway. We played marbles in the street and conkers and all sorts. I know that it sounds as if it was at the time of the ark. The important thing was that the rules were ours. The games were ours. Even the health and safety aspects were ours. The only essential guidance from adults was a sense of fun. That's the best schooling.

Finally, in terms of education at any age, I have noted various comments about the significance of conflict and even anger in comedy. When I consider the tensions in classic sitcoms and slapstick, it seems to me that many mostly revolve around light anxiety. Hancock, Fawlty Towers, Only Fools, Bilko. Given the state of the modern age, I would certainly start to consider the application of comedy there as a cognitive tool.

Hope this is helpful.

Horseradish

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sootyj

  • Friday 16th August 2013, 5:22pm
  • England
  • 51,287 posts

My most recent little writing job was for an educational app company; who wanted to use Vine style software to teach English. Basically what you would do is look up a word. Then a video would pop up illustrating the word, pretty much dialogue free. The thing I worked on with them was structuring the videos so they functioned as jokes.
e.g. the video was the punchline, for the feeder line what does this word mean?
Idea being that jokes make the brain do a sort of leap to tie two meanings together. And thus exploting this because that leap, was the lesson that needed to be learned.

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A Horseradish

  • Friday 16th August 2013, 5:41pm [Edited]
  • United Kingdom
  • 7,636 posts
Quote: sootyj @ August 16 2013, 5:22 PM BST

My most recent little writing job was for an educational app company; who wanted to use Vine style software to teach English. Basically what you would do is look up a word. Then a video would pop up illustrating the word, pretty much dialogue free. The thing I worked on with them was structuring the videos so they functioned as jokes.
e.g. the video was the punchline, for the feeder line what does this word mean?
Idea being that jokes make the brain do a sort of leap to tie two meanings together. And thus exploting this because that leap, was the lesson that needed to be learned.


That sounds very good sootyj. A helpful bridge, presumably, for non-English speakers too.

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sootyj

  • Friday 16th August 2013, 5:55pm
  • England
  • 51,287 posts

Mostly for them. As well as build your vocabulary types.

I hope they film my one for transubstantiation

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BenS

  • Friday 23rd August 2013, 6:45am [Edited]
  • Canada
  • 122 posts

This is a great question, something I've been pondering for a few days since I read your post. I think depending upon the context of use comedy can be highly educational, but the opposite is also equally true that it sabotage the development of the young (or anybody). Whereas mature comedy might be based more on irony of shared experiences and that whole 'laughing with,' immature and comedy is laughing at. The two leading to very different mindsets.

I don't necessarily think that comedy alone can be a vehicle for education, but it can be a vehicle for modes of education. I can only speak for my own experiences of what British comedy in particular has done for me and its positive effects in my life. I am not a very funny person, I butcher jokes like you wouldn't believe, but I grew up on comedy and it was always a very safe environment for me to learn about my heritage and homecountry whilst also building my self esteem (both positive effects that greatly impacted my ability to learn). Half of my enthusiasm for history comes from knowing a joke or two about famous figures and in remembering those jokes it made history more personal and alive. Likewise, as any other part of the media, it acted as a socializing agent, and helped me to understand aspects of the culture that I wouldn't have known growing up in a foreign country. Whether it was slang or conceptions of class, I soaked in a lot of what was being presented... not so much reality as it was being portrayed in the comedy but instead the underlying theme of that comedy that I only became aware of after the fact. Now don't get me wrong, I certainly don't see comedy as being a true representation of British society, no more than North American comedy is truly representational of Canadian society. However, it is an important echo of society.

I think ultimately for me the most important part of comedy's educational use is its biological and psychological effects. It seems to me that humour is a brain building activity. It doesn't surprise me what sooty had to say about his project because it does work, comedy makes the brain work harder in trying to understand what the joke is in order to reap the positive reward of the feelings attached to laughter. When someone transitions from not getting to getting a joke, they literally go through a paradigm shift and the brain retains that understanding. Once you get a joke you can never go back to not understanding it. In language training, I can see how this would be a crucial mental exercise and help to ingratiate the concept/thought/idea into the mind.

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JohnMc

  • Wednesday 28th August 2013, 4:53pm [Edited]
  • England
  • 3 posts

Many thanks for your ideas and suggestions, all - this blog is now up - give it a read if you have the time, and please feel free to comment on here, on the bottom of the blog itself, or by Tweeting @JohnMcArtsEd and/or @A_New_Direction

Learning to Laugh

Or, why isn't comedy taken seriously? Following a trip to the Edinburgh Festival, A New Direction's John McMahon ponders the sometimes overlooked value of comedy as a vehicle for cultural learning - including social, cognitive, health and pedagogic dividends.

http://bit.ly/15gHwkP

Thanks again,

John

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A Horseradish

  • Wednesday 28th August 2013, 6:17pm [Edited]
  • United Kingdom
  • 7,636 posts
Quote: JohnMc @ August 28 2013, 4:53 PM BST

Many thanks for your ideas and suggestions, all - this blog is now up - give it a read if you have the time, and please feel free to comment on here, on the bottom of the blog itself, or by Tweeting @JohnMcArtsEd and/or @A_New_Direction

Learning to Laugh

Or, why isn't comedy taken seriously? Following a trip to the Edinburgh Festival, A New Direction's John McMahon ponders the sometimes overlooked value of comedy as a vehicle for cultural learning - including social, cognitive, health and pedagogic dividends.

http://bit.ly/15gHwkP

Thanks again,

John


Oh yes - that's very good. :)