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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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,