Comedy degree no joke

April 7, 2006

Have you heard the one about the students taking a degree in comedy? It may sound like the start of a bad joke, but Southampton Solent University could not be more serious. The university claimed this week that it had launched the world's first degree in Comedy Writing and Performance.

The course, devised and run by academic and stand-up comic Chris Ritchie, covers writing and performing in stand-up shows, radio and television, and the history and criticism of comedy including Aristotle, Freud and Cicero.

It will begin in September and will enrol up to 15 students.

Dr Ritchie, who has a PhD in alternative comedy from the 1950s to the 1990s, said: "I started the course because nobody was doing anything on comedy. In academia it always seemed to be a small part of another subject.

It seemed silly to keep comedy as a minor element of academia when it is a big part of everyday life."

Dr Ritchie is also keen to defend the academic credibility of the course.

He said: "People think it's a joke and that people sit around for three years telling bad jokes. But comedy has been around for 2,500 years and there's a lot written on it, so it is a history-based degree."

But students will not get a first class degree just for being funny. Dr Ritchie says they will be marked in a similar way to those studying other performance-based subjects - by how professional they are and how much work has been put in by them, rather than by how much they make the examiners laugh.

While the Solent course is the only pure comedy degree, other institutions, such as Kent University, run modules in the subject - often as part of drama courses.

Oliver Double, who runs Kent's comedy module, said studying comedy provided organisational and presentation skills useful for the workplace in general.

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