Four days for laughs

Julie Spierer, Special Features Editor

Laughter is a universal language with the capacity to connect individuals of different origins, identities, and backgrounds.

A group of 10 professors led by Convention Chair and Associate Professor of Philosophy Sheila Lintott collaborated to create the first ever comedy convention at the University, an extensive four-day program composed of panels, keynote speakers, workshops, luncheons, and comedy presentations. The program, titled “The Ethics and Aesthetics of Stand-Up Comedy,” was hosted at the University from April 5-8 and brought plenty of this laughter and the power associated with it to campus.

The convention attracted a varied crowd, including professors, students, comedy specialists, and individuals simply interested in experiencing an intellectually stimulating approach to the art of comedy. Many attendees came from out of state, and a block of rooms was reserved for the conference at the Best Western Plus Country Cupboard Inn in Lewisburg, Pa. Full registration for the convention cost anywhere from $150 for University staff and Lewisburg community members to $250 for full-time workers. Attendees also had the opportunity to purchase a one-day pass, which ranged from $60 to $100. Many students purchased tickets for shows and presentations on-site, though some events were free of charge.

“It was exciting and extremely satisfying to have people from all over the country, all over the world, together on Bucknell’s campus to discuss and celebrate an art they love: the art of stand-up comedy,” Lintott said.

The convention was supposed to begin on April 5, but the opening event was postponed to April 6. The rescheduled event began with opening remarks from Lintott, followed by a keynote address titled “On Humor: Feminist Makeovers from Sluts and Other Social Misfits.” The presentation was centered around theories as to why women are sometimes perceived as less funny than their male counterparts. The evening concluded with a reception at the Samek Art Museum titled “Political Cartoons in Political Times” and a showcase of local stand-up talent.

The following morning featured three concurrent sessions, one of which was an undergraduate panel, collaborated by chair Julia Oshrin ’19. Oshrin is a member of We Brake for Nobody, the on-campus improvisational comedy group.

“Being a part of the panel was a great new experience that allowed students from Bucknell and from other schools come together and share thoughtful insights on comedy,” Oshrin said.

Oshrin noted the high attendance at this event, and that attendees seemed very engaged throughout the panel.

The two subsequent presentations of April 6 were titled “Theory and Practice” and “Subversive Humor,” both of which featured presenters from an assortment of different universities and establishments around the nation, including the University of Albany, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Berlin University of the Arts.

New York Times comedy critic Jason Zinoman followed the morning’s presentations, where he spoke of the legitimization of stand-up and comedy in general as a profound art form.

“It was interesting to hear someone really give stand-up comedy the attention it deserved. While its job is intended to bring about laughs, there truly is an art form to it and hearing someone of his level give it that legitimization was awesome,” Cristina Bartolacci ’17 said.

Two presentations followed Zinoman’s keynote address, which were titled “Comedy & Intersections of Identity,” and “Stand-Up: Media, and Message,” as well as a workshop titled “Using Philosophy for Evil/Comedy.”

The evening concluded with a comedy show in Harvey Powers Theatre featuring comedians Hari Kondabolu with an opening by Kerry Coddett. The presentation was introduced by Bartolacci and centered around bringing relevant race issues to light in a very intentional but culturally sensitive and aware manner.

“I thought he was absolutely hilarious. His punch lines were so clever and engaging. I especially liked his self-deprecating humor because it made him 1,000 percent more relatable,” Koto Hamaguchi ’19 said.

Events on April 7 began with a talk titled “Comedy and Tragedy: Two Sides, Same Coin,” followed by separate concurrent presentations, which included “Standing-Up for Self and Other” and “Responsibilities To/Of the Audience,” as well as a workshop titled “Stand-up Comedy for the Terrified.”

The final day of the convention, April 8, looked similar to the rest, with a talk in the morning and another set of concurrent presentations called “Harm and Healing” and “Laughter and Its Objects,” as well as a workshop titled “Negotiating Between ‘Yes-And’ & ‘No Means No.’” A keynote address was held in the afternoon discussing the natural-nature of comedy, as opposed to rehearsed-nature, followed by another presentation called “Satire,” a workshop on teaching with stand-up comedy, and a panel discussion discussing comedy as a form of entertainment or comedy.

The convention concluded in the evening with Paula Poundstone’s comedy show in the Weis Center for the Performing Arts. The theatre was nearly filled to capacity with community members and University students. Poundstone is an acclaimed stand-up comedian, actress, and commentator who flourished on her one-hour HBO comedy specials beginning in the 1980s.

Her snappy one-liners and witty interactions with a myriad of audience members allowed the spectators to engage with her presentation and connect on a more personal level. Ultimately, the convention provided the University with both a broad and specific exploration of and connection to comedy, which is an intricate and precise art form.

Lintott hopes a convention similar to this will continue in the future, either annually or biennially. As soon as the program was established, Lintott began receiving requests from a wide array of academics who specialize in the art of comedy, requesting the ability to participate in panels, presentations, and attendance.

“I am thrilled with how the conference went; we succeeded in bringing people with diverse perspectives together to discuss the under-appreciated art of stand-up comedy … Conversations were started and connections were made between academics of different disciplines, between academics and people in the comedy industry, and between junior and senior scholars,” Lintott said.

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