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Interdisciplinary Comedy Arts module brings the funny together

improv students
Students perform in an improv class

Before Ben Gauthier came to Northwestern, he didn’t talk about his interest in comedy.

“I secretly wanted to do comedy, and I just didn’t have outlets for it,” Gauthier says.

The opportunities opened up when he came to Northwestern. A Radio/Television/Film major, Gauthier got involved with Northwestern sketch television, started performing with improv and sketch groups, and began doing standup on campus. Whenever Gauthier learned about a class that aligned with his interests, he did everything in his power to make the course work with his schedule. 

“I feel incredibly lucky that I have been able to pursue comedy in all these different forms,” Gauthier says.

Gauthier is one of the first participants in Northwestern’s new Comedy Arts module, launched in January 2017 through the School of Communication and co-coordinated by lecturers Brett Neveu and Zina Camblin. Open to all majors across Northwestern, the module’s inclusiveness makes it particularly valuable.

“Students across the university are interested in comedy, because comedians are becoming influencers,” Neveu says. “Students want to be able to write op-ed pieces and inject comedy into their writing. Even students who will be applying for jobs in business — they want to learn how to improvise and bring measured levity to a situation.”

The Comedy Arts module includes both required and suggested courses spanning a wide range of disciplines, from Communication Studies and Theatre to Comparative Literature and German. Neveu says he and Camblin hope faculty who currently offer — or would like to offer — courses with a comedy component opt to link up with the module.

In addition to the coursework, the Comedy Arts module asks students to go out and create comedy in some fashion. Students can take classes at Second City, or join an improv group on campus, or even submit an analysis of Saturday Night Live to a literary journal.  

“We have so many resources here,” Neveu says. “And the bigger the Comedy Arts module gets, the more we can tap into those resources. We could bring in guest speakers and go see shows together. The module is broad on purpose. We want everyone to get something out of it, even if they don’t want to work on The Daily Show.”

Gauthier, who hopes to have a career in comedy writing, is grateful for the opportunity to structure Northwestern’s comedic variety into an academic module: “It’s a really great way for students like me to amass the work they’ve done into one cohesive whole.”

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