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Feature Story: ELC Comedy Club

An excit­ing approach to education

We were for­tu­nate enough to have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to speak with Judy Hick­ey from East­side Luther­an Col­lege, about their com­e­dy class from last year.
ELC Comedy Club 2
ELC Comedy Club 3
ELC Comedy Club 5
ELC Comedy Club 4

Hel­lo Judy,

To begin could you tell us a lit­tle about what you have been doing?

It’s an absolute plea­sure to have the chance to share this project. Last Semes­ter we focused on Com­e­dy.

We chose com­e­dy as our focus and con­nect­ing theme for the semes­ter as a con­trast to our first semes­ter dri­ving ques­tion of How do make our voic­es heard?” which tack­led issues such as protest move­ments, per­sua­sion, debat­ing and so on. For Semes­ter 2 in 2021, we focused on how com­e­dy, humour and what we find fun­ny can change over time, cul­ture, and con­text. We looked at a whole range of com­e­dy types and gen­res, from Come­dia dell’arte through to slap­stick, satire, sit-coms and par­o­dy. We had a series of dri­ving questions:

  1. How does humour and what we find fun­ny change over time? We con­sid­ered extracts of Shakespeare’s come­dies — in par­tic­u­lar the now con­tro­ver­sial The Tam­ing of the Shrew, which could be seen as misog­y­nis­tic gaslight­ing but was in Shakespeare’s time seen as slap­stick fun. We looked at how and why social val­ues change and then instruct our humour too. We com­pared Tam­ing with the Heath Ledger film 10 Things I Hate About You, con­sid­er­ing how the sto­ry of Kat, Bian­ca and Petru­chio had been updat­ed and changed – and then con­sid­ered what stayed the same. We also con­sid­ered how that film was now per­haps a bit dat­ed too and how it would need to be adapt­ed for a 21st cen­tu­ry audience.
  2. Our sec­ond ques­tion was How does cul­ture influ­ence humour? In that we stud­ied the psy­chol­o­gy of humour and then looked at cul­tur­al fac­tors that influ­ence what is seen to be fun­ny. We focused on Aus­tralian humour and con­sid­ered what was unique to Aussie humour through a range of sources. Our focus was The Cas­tle.
  3. Our most excit­ing study was the third one: How can I use com­e­dy to raise aware­ness of an issue I’m pas­sion­ate about? This began when I attend­ed a PBL (Project Based Learn­ing) work­shop in the July hol­i­days – the work­shop helped me plan out a series of mile­stones’ lead­ing up to the actu­al Com­e­dy Club pre­sen­ta­tion by the stu­dents in the school Hall. The mile­stones were:
    1. The Launch: We intro­duced the con­cept of par­o­dy and Kelsey and I dressed up as Kath & Kim to mod­el what we were talk­ing about (stu­dent response: dif­fer­ent, unusu­al, noice). Stu­dents did a Gallery Walk through a range of COVID-19 par­o­dies and decid­ed which one was their favourite and why. They then reflect­ed on what made that par­o­dy suc­cess­ful and what they learned about using humour to tack­le seri­ous issues.
    2. The Close Study: We then close­ly stud­ied par­o­dy as a genre – with a range of activ­i­ties from explic­it teach­ing, research, exam­ples, dis­cus­sions, inter­views, and so on. We looked at a great arti­cle called When the line is crossed – this sparked a lot of dis­cus­sion and think­ing. When does com­e­dy cross the line and become offen­sive? What is the pur­pose of com­e­dy – is it to be safe or to shock? Stu­dents loved the con­cept of punch­ing up and punch­ing down’ that was dis­cussed in the arti­cle – its okay to punch up and mock politi­cians, celebri­ties, teach­ers, etc. but it is not okay to punch down and mock the weak or mar­gin­alised. Stu­dents were very much tak­en with the idea that punch­ing down would be dif­fer­ent in a vari­ety of contexts. 
    3. The Experts: Stu­dents then got to inter­act with experts. We were for­tu­nate to have Ben Richard­son – an Aus­lan inter­preter and come­di­an – come to the school and spent an hour talk­ing about some of the issues we’d come across and ques­tions that had arisen. He per­formed a rou­tine for the stu­dents and was won­der­ful in answer­ing their questions.
  4. Through a fam­i­ly con­nec­tion with one of our stu­dents, we were also lucky to have Luke McGre­gor zoom in to answer more ques­tions. He was fun­ny and gra­cious and had lots of wis­dom and advice to pass on to the stu­dents – I will include stu­dent reflec­tions below.
    1. The Project: in between the close study and the experts, stu­dents work­ing in teams to cre­ate their com­e­dy piece. They were giv­en the option to pre-record it or present live. There was a shed­load of learn­ing that hap­pened there – from how to tack­le dif­fer­ences of opin­ions on top­ics, what makes some­thing fun­ny, how to use green­screen tech­nol­o­gy, how to use your voice, and so on. In this, teach­ers became advi­sors rather than experts and allowed stu­dents voice and choice in their projects. In fact – I learnt a lot from the stu­dents and am con­stant­ly impressed with their sense of social jus­tice and their pas­sion to make this world a bet­ter place.
    2. The Pre­sen­ta­tions: we set the school Hall up as a com­e­dy club venue and had a mix of pre-record­ed rou­tines and live acts. This was the cul­mi­na­tion of the project and after­wards stu­dents reflect­ed on the process of cre­at­ing the rou­tine, what it was like pre­sent­ing or film­ing it, what the audience’s reac­tion was and what they would do dif­fer­ent­ly next time.

We heard that your class­room had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk with the accom­plished Aus­tralian come­di­an, Luke McGre­gor. What was this expe­ri­ence like for you and the students?

Obvi­ous­ly, Luke’s zoom call was an absolute high­light for us all. When I first men­tioned it to the class­es they were typ­i­cal teenagers: who’s he? But we showed a range of clips – from com­e­dy clubs to Rose­haven – and this raised an inter­est­ing ques­tion that the stu­dents were keen to ask – what’s the dif­fer­ence for a come­di­an between live per­for­mances and pre-record­ed ones for tele­vi­sion? They loved his down to earth humour and the fact that he was real­ly inter­est­ed in what they had to say and what they were learn­ing from their project. After the call fin­ished, they were excit­ed to think that they were doing some­thing that could lead to big­ger things, and that they are doing some­thing that is authen­tic and real life. Many found that they loved the fact that there are so many peo­ple inter­est­ed in what they are doing and hap­py to give them time. The biggest thing was how Luke and Ben Richard­son took time out of their busy sched­ules to lis­ten to some school kids from the east­ern shore of Hobart. We got a few stu­dents who are keen to take part in the Mel­bourne Inter­na­tion­al Com­e­dy Festival’s Class Clowns pro­gram – so that is amazing. 

Here are some of the things stu­dents said: 

WOOOW, that was awe­some. He seems like a good bloke, I liked how hon­est he was. I took away many pieces of advice.”

Luke said to use life expe­ri­ences as the source of your com­e­dy. That’s helped me heaps.”

I liked that Luke said com­e­dy isn’t just about mak­ing peo­ple laugh but con­nect­ing to the audi­ence in as many ways as pos­si­ble. He was extreme­ly hum­ble – he didn’t brag about his suc­cess­es, he just want­ed to help us makes ours successful.”

What has been the response from the stu­dents in your class?

The stu­dents are lov­ing the real-world con­nec­tions and the fact that they have voice and choice in their project. They choose their groups, they choose their top­ics, they chose the orig­i­nal source of par­o­dy, they choose how to present. And that com­e­dy is the focus. Some were com­plete­ly ner­vous about the Com­e­dy Club – where’s the analy­sis Mrs Hick­ey?” But the reflec­tions and jour­nal­ing are there the whole way through – reflect, refine, improve. 

What made you decide to focus on com­e­dy with your students?

The last two years have been hard for stu­dents – rais­ing seri­ous issues for them on per­son­al, local, and glob­al scales. Teenagers are deep-thinkers and are very pas­sion­ate about what is impor­tant to them, so we want­ed a range of ways to show them that they can (and most def­i­nite­ly should) be heard. So, they’ve had a chance to tack­le seri­ous issues through cre­at­ing their own poet­ry, speech­es, debat­ing, sto­ry­telling, and now com­e­dy rou­tines. And as a way of round­ing off the year, we felt that tack­ling some­thing of impor­tance to them through humour was a good ground­ing in the val­ues that we hold impor­tant – empa­thy, humour, and balance. 

What has been the biggest sur­prise from this class?

Hon­est­ly? Their sense of fun, will­ing­ness to take risks, and total engage­ment with the project. And at the same time – that doesn’t sur­prise me. Like I’ve said before, teenagers are amaz­ing peo­ple to work with, they are learn­ing about what’s impor­tant to them all the time and find­ing new ways to express them­selves. With the Com­e­dy Club, once they under­stood that they had a lot of free­dom to choose what and how they want­ed to say, they have been amaz­ing. I actu­al­ly thought there would be a large num­ber who wouldn’t want to present their com­e­dy pub­licly, and per­haps the biggest sur­prise is how many are thrilled to have the oppor­tu­ni­ty. And the num­ber who want to per­form to a live audi­ence. That’s risk-tak­ing and courage in the one package.

What moti­vates you as an educator?

That’s a good ques­tion – but I think I’ve made it into my 32nd year of teach­ing because I gen­uine­ly love see­ing young peo­ple find their pas­sions and grow to know who they are and where they want to go in life. Being able to pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple to shine and be cre­ative, self-reflec­tive mem­bers of a com­mu­ni­ty is won­der­ful and is what keeps me going. And the stu­dents con­stant­ly rise to new chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties. The cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of teenagers have had so much to deal with (in par­tic­u­lar, the rapid esca­la­tion of tech­nol­o­gy use, but also pan­demics, glob­al cli­mate issues and so on) – and these are the kids that make me want to keep teach­ing. If I can help them devel­op the skills they need to be well-round­ed, resilient, cre­ative thinkers, then I’m doing my job well. 

Thanks so much, 

Judy Hick­ey

Any advice for Eng­lish teach­ers that are start­ing off in their careers?

1. Know your stu­dents, find their pas­sions, help them shine.

2. Be pas­sion­ate about what you do – if you don’t love it, your stu­dents won’t either.

3. Have fun – learn­ing is far more effec­tive if you are all enjoy­ing the process.

4. Allow for a range of learn­ing activ­i­ties and strate­gies – there is a time for explic­it teach­ing and also a time to step back and see where it goes.

5. Be flex­i­ble and don’t be hard on your­self if some­thing doesn’t work – self-reflec­tion is one of the biggest skills we teach our stu­dents, mod­el that for your­self too.

6. Keep learn­ing – we are life-long learn­ers and there’s always some­thing you can learn from others.

7. If you can, team teach. It has been amaz­ing to team teach with Kelsey – we each bring dif­fer­ent strengths into the room and it’s amaz­ing what I’m learn­ing from her. She and I are at oppo­site ends of our careers – I’ve been teach­ing for 32 years and she’s in her first few years start­ing out. And that is a great com­bi­na­tion – she teach­es me loads, and hope­ful­ly I’m help­ing her too.

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