Pedagogy Comedy

When I sometimes think ‘HORansome, you need to write more!’ I need to remind myself that I’ve been regularly writing and directing stage plays for a year and an half now. Admittedly they are only three to five minutes in length and there are only about twenty-four of these a year, but it’s a regular thing and the gig is good.

For the gig is comedy and the gig is pedagogical.

I lecture; for the time being it is my job and I enjoy it. The reason I enjoy it is that I don’t teach classes in the usual manner of a tertiary lecturer. Where others present information in factoids or speeches my colleague in crime and I present it as dialogues, puns, videos and stage-plays.

All of which is much harder than it sounds.

Effective teaching means getting information through to people, and most snazzy, shazam moments in lectures actually tend to obscure rather than elucidate key concepts. It’s almost Hitchcockian; stop teaching and the audience will be that much harder to get back into the educational groove. Thus you have to signpost things, tell students that whilst the next segment will be fun it isn’t time to turn off your brain.

Sign-posting is hard the first time and easy the second time. Take the ‘Lord Morrisey Morrisey and Stickle’ detective plays. The first time we perform one of these serial dramas we have to tell the audience that the kind of reasoning we are dealing with is exactly the kind of things that a detective needs to know. We set this up and then play the theme music. The second time our detectives appear we do a far shorter spiel; by the time the third play hits them they know, as the theme starts to play, what is coming up next and that they need to pay attention and see through the bad puns to the content inside.

It works.

Far harder is the task of writing a short comic skit that actually is educational. Depressingly enough, most of the really good jokes have to be tossed out of the sketches because they either take far too long to set up or they get in the way of content. Every line counts; a writer knows this, but in educational material every word counts as well. Sure, a six minute sketch with witty repartee and a message is fine and good, but that’s probably two minutes you have to take away from other, equally important, content.

As a teacher content is important (no matter how often I joke that I tell lies to my students). Wrapping content up in different shaped packages is good; it provides the students with different experiences of the same material and makes the lecturers happy (my colleague and I really just want to be doing radio half the time). It’s also been a boon to my other teaching; my adult education class was interesting and fun because I played it straight (for the most part) for six weeks and found the experience refreshing. God knows that I will end up doing for the Stage III Medical Humanties course I am now teaching…

I’m going to miss being a lecturer next year. Still, the experience it has given me in re script-writing (and, probably more importantly, script-tightening) has been a boon and I look forward to making a go of it next year.

Roll on London, I say.