Comedy major brings laughs and artistic opportunity

by Jack Ganley / Beacon Correspondent • September 23, 2015

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Student comedians are divided on the comedy major’s larger implications on campus.
Student comedians are divided on the comedy major’s larger implications on campus.

The most fun I’ve had in any of my endeavors at Emerson has always been writing and performing in shows with my comedy troupe, Police Geese. When my first semester with the group began, I was introduced to the culture of Emerson comedy. There were open mics where any student could try their hand at stand up all the time on campus. Almost every week there would be free live sketch or improv comedy performance available to anyone willing to watch. I had the chance to become a writer and performer for different television programs on the college media stations. This thriving scene was something I had overlooked before arriving on campus, but as far as I’m concerned, this was the icing on Emerson’s cake.

Every day, students on this campus are reminded how important pursuing a college education in the arts is—filmmakers are inspired to create, actors motivated to perform, musicians work tirelessly to perfect their craft. There is no reason why an education in comedy should be treated as any less worthy of such support. Students who want to devote the same amount of time and money to practicing comedy are equally justified. 

So much of the critique of the new comedy major boils down to the notion that one simply cannot learn how to be funny. And, to a certain extent, I agree. But even the greatest athletes have to work hard to achieve their goals. So what makes comedians any different? I believe that comedic ability is like a muscle—with the right amount of the right kind of exercise, anyone can hone their skills.

Pursuing comedy can be risky considering the job market, but this is common with careers in the creative studies. It’s a decision every artist makes when they decide to fully engross themselves in their passion. There are only so many well-paid filmmakers in the world, but countless students decide to invest their time and money into film school anyway. My belief is that comedy is just as much an art form as any other, therefore, it deserves its own curriculum and subsequent funding and attention.

Martie Cook, a professor and associate chair of the visual and media arts department (and the brains behind the comedy major and related division) is my faculty advisor. Last semester I spoke to her about this major, and what it means for Emerson students. Cook has all sorts of plans for Emerson’s comedy scene, and they go far beyond the scope of just a major. She’s is the reason why students can study with the Upright Citizens Brigade, one of the most legendary schools of comedic performance in the country, during the Emerson Los Angeles program. She is working on bringing a comedy-exclusive performance venue to campus, a haven for both students and members of the Boston comedy scene alike. Cook is one of many professors at the college dedicated to improving comedy education at the college. While a simple introduction of a comedy major into an institution without any focus on the extracurricular aspect would be amiss, this simply is not the case on our campus.

At the end of the day, I still do think it’s pretty funny that one can now “major in comedy.” And yes, it is a gamble to do so, and it might not necessarily be worth all the money going to here requires. But what makes following other passions and declaring other majors more valid? None of the majors Emerson’s offers are particularly financially lucrative—according to data released by the Department of Treasury last week, starting salaries for Emerson graduates land among the lowest of the 27 other schools nearby—and the decision to pursue this degree ought to be a personal one. 

Emerson’s vibrant comedy community is extensive, and it’s something to be proud of. This comedy major fulfills a preexisting deficiency. As a film student making a great investment in his degree, I kind of wish I had the chance to switch paths, because I’d rather be spending that money on pursuing comedy. The comedy curriculum is a valuable addition to our community, and is just as important as any other discipline. While Emerson will never be able to simply teach anyone how to be funny, it will continue to help foster the development of young comedians for years to come.