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First year seminar students investigate gender disparities in comedy

First year seminar students investigate gender disparities in comedy

Flake visits class.

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For Lycoming College’s 2022 fall semester, the first-year seminar, “Are Women Funny?,” was offered to incoming first-year students. Created and taught by Shanin Dougherty, associate director of career and professional development, the course provided students with an overview of comedy created and performed by women through text and visual media as well as why the idea of funny women continues to be a polarizing topic.

With a background in women’s studies, Dougherty created the course to investigate how gender roles inform comedy and how humor has empowered women. “For a First-Year Seminar, this topic allows students to grow their transferable skills of critical thinking, analysis, and communication, which is important for first-year students embarking on their college journey,” said Dougherty.

The class met twice a week to discuss their analysis and reactions to articles and texts related to the discussion topic of the week. As well as weekly readings, students also watched examples of women in comedy in both documentaries and television shows with women in the lead role, such as “I Love Lucy,” “30 Rock,” “The Golden Girls,” and various “Saturday Night Live” skits starring Melissa McCarthy, Gilda Radner, and Kate McKinnon.

Half-way through the semester, Emily Flake, writer and cartoonist for the New Yorker and owner of St. Nell’s Humor Writing Residency for Women in Williamsport, visited the class. “Emily’s visit is the lynchpin of the course,” said Dougherty. “Knowing her is what inspired me to develop this class and include her as the speaker, and she graciously accepted the invitation. I think it is important for the students to meet a working comedian and to be able to ask questions about her journey as well as her process for creating and writing comedy.”

As well as outlining her journey to becoming a comedian, Flake showed examples of her illustrations and captions to the class. As an interactive activity, Flake presented one illustration and asked students to try their hand at comedy by submitting their best captions. Examples included:

  • We’re not in Kansas anymore. Toto, what have you done?
  • Oh my God, she said take a LEFT on 3rd Street!
  • Oh s***, I forgot your leash!
  • O.V.: It’s bring your dog to work day…

“Are Women Funny?” is a part of Lycoming College’s First-Year Seminars, offering students an opportunity to explore a topic that may be totally new and unfamiliar. A student can broaden their mind and discover a new interest by selecting a First-Year Seminar outside of their immediate areas of interest. Each First-Year Seminar meets a general education requirement, so all will advance the student toward graduation. Other first-year seminars include “Zen and Art,” “Medieval Food and Culture,” “SciFi Technology Society,” and many more.