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CLS 87 — The History of Stand-Up Comedy

Quarter: Winter
Day(s): Mondays
Course Format: On-campus
Duration: 8 weeks
Date(s): Jan 22—Mar 19
Time: 7:00—8:50 pm
Drop Deadline: Feb 4
Unit: 1
Tuition: $400
Instructor(s): Matthew Daube
Status: Open
Please Note: No class on February 19
7:00—8:50 pm
Jan 22—Mar 19
8 weeks
Drop By
Feb 4
1 Unit
Matthew Daube
Please Note: No class on February 19
Historically, comedy has provided us a means of pleasurable escape and social critique, and it’s the place where societies often let themselves discuss their thorniest and most taboo topics. This is particularly true of stand-up comedy. Born in the years following World War II, stand-up comedy created an intimate performance space where comedians and audiences could ask uncomfortable questions and challenge social conventions. Stand-up comedians jumpstarted important conversations about civil rights and freedom of speech by speaking with groundbreaking candidness about race and ethnicity (Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and Dave Chappelle); censorship (George Carlin and Bill Hicks); feminism (Joan Rivers and Roseanne Barr); sexuality (Eddie Murphy, Margaret Cho, and Wanda Sykes); and the often-overlooked absurdities of everyday life (Jerry Seinfeld and Ellen DeGeneres).

Through in-class viewings and discussions, this course will focus on the innovative work of those stand-up comedians who tapped into the zeitgeist and pushed forward the boundaries of comedy. We will begin with stand-up comedy’s emergence against the backdrop of the civil rights movement and trace how it navigated the counterculture of the 1970s, the comedy boom of the 1980s, the stand-up-to-sitcom pipeline of the 1980s and 1990s, and the digital landscape of the 21st century. We will watch classic routines and rarely seen clips, and examine how current comedians such as Louis C.K. and Tig Notaro continue stand-up comedy’s subtle yet important influence on media and politics.

Matthew Daube, Stand-Up Comedy Researcher

Matthew Daube has studied comedy from many angles, including as a writer/performer with an MFA in playwriting (Smith College) and as a scholar with a PhD in dramatic criticism and directing (Stanford). He has taught related seminars in various departments and programs at Stanford. He has been cited as a comedy expert by The Wall Street Journal and appeared in the recent documentary The Comedy Club.