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Laughing matters

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On Friday, March 1, the University of the Fraser Valley welcomed comedians Cliff Prang, Sophia Johnson, and our very own English professor Rajnish Dhawan. The event was hosted by English professor Alex Wetmore, as a seminar for his course ENG 271: The Rhetoric of Stand-up Comedy.

New to this semester, the course description states that it will introduce students “to basic concepts and terms from the field of rhetoric, and apply them to the analysis of a particular contemporary cultural context.” This includes political debate, Indigenous rights claims, and social media, as well as stand-up comedy. Dr. Wetmore planned this as an opportunity for his students to experience how rhetoric is applied during a stand-up comedy show. This event marks a turning point in understanding the importance of humour and how it can apply to education. Opening the event, Dr. Wetmore joked about self-deprecating humour, and his play on words saying “laughing matters” helped emphasize how important laughter can actually be. Although claiming not to be a performer, Dr. Wetmore fit in well with the lineup that was to come.

Cliff Prang took the stage first. Prang has been a comedian most of his life, and did improv in high school. He has always enjoyed making others laugh, and decided to take stand-up comedy seriously as a career five years ago. He is married with three kids, and previously worked as a pastor. He likes to draw on his life experiences and puts a funny, sometimes dark twist on many of his jokes. His transition into becoming a professional comedian made for some funny moments and he plays with that as part of his bit. The crowd was in hysterics with his jokes on work, parenting, and his experiences in the Fraser Valley. Prang’s humour hit the mark for many who attended, creating jokes that were very specific to where we live.

Next to perform was comedian and actress Sophia Johnson. Originally from New Zealand, her jokes are centred around her experiences as a “Kiwi” as well as being a women in an industry like comedy. Her energy and crass humour lit up the room with a completely different kind of laugh. Johnson’s persona was easily understood by university students and helped emphasize how different comedians generate different reactions. Her perspective of moving to Canada and experiencing things in Vancouver for the first time showed the humour in moving to a new place.

Professor Rajnish Dhawan was the last comedian to take the stage. Professor Dhawan will be hosting UFV’s Got Talent during Valley Fest this month, and will be participating in a comedy battle on CBC called “Up Next.” His jokes centered around his experiences as someone who has immigrated to Canada, playing heavily on stereotypes, and using humour to help show the ridiculous nature of cultural assumptions. Dhawan knows how to play the crowd and understands his audience well. His jokes centre around problems that seem to be faced often in the Fraser Valley, centreing specifically on being “a walking stereotype.” He jokes, “I am multiculturalism,” and uses this to break down barriers. His style of comedy is extremely relevant to UFV and received large waves of laughter from the audience.

Afterward, the comedians sat down for a panel to discuss their methods and how they apply to rhetoric. This was extremely useful in pointing out the relationship comedy shares with language. Professor Wetmore had prepared a variety of questions, beginning with how they get their ideas. Prang opened up about his role as a father and how it helps create scenarios that he can play on. He also uses journaling, improv, and practice. His experiences as a husband and father are his fuel.

Sophia Johnson talked about writing her jokes at open mic nights and finding dive bars to practice in. “Imagine the worst pub and three weird dudes in the back,” and that is where she gets some of her material. She likes to free talk and also “just see what sticks and stays.” Johnson’s method plays on the audience and their reactions. This allows her to mesh with real-time events, while also feeding off her prepared material.

Professor Rajnish Dhawan said he gets his material from his experiences in Canada. He uses these experiences to build on a premise and create his unique style of comedy. Throughout the event one thing became very clear: laughter can bring a group of strangers together. As each performer went on, the air in the room seemed to get warmer, as students and staff laughed together. The event itself helped to emphasize how rhetoric can truly be a “laughing matter.”

This event was a great success. It was nice to see students come out to something that was both entertaining and educational. The creative ingenuity of the UFV English department hosting a comedy event to help teach students about the applications of rhetoric is something we hope to see more of. Events like this give students the opportunity to learn, while also enjoying a good laugh. This event helped to emphasize the importance of laughter, and how comedy can apply to the study of rhetoric.

Image: Mikaela Collins/The Cascade

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