Yearlong URI initiative explores social issues in standup comedy

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“Think Like a Comic” workshop encourages creative expression

KINGSTON, R.I. – October 9, 2013 – Chris Rock’s controversial standup comedy says the unsayable, provoking audiences to talk about race, class and politics. Rock says his job is not just to make people laugh. Rather, he uses humor to examine the human condition.

Professional comedian and instructor Nathan Hartswick of SparkArts Entertainment plans to cultivate these qualities among up-and-coming young comedians at the University of Rhode Island when he comes to campus on Family Weekend.

Hartswick will lead a program entitled, “Think Like a Comic,” a standup comedy workshop for the URI community that will take place on Friday, Oct. 18 from 4 to 7 p.m. in the Atrium 1 Room of the Memorial Union, with a live performance open to the public at 7 p.m. in the Coffeehouse.

Students who register for the event will practice and develop short comedy routines using their own life experiences and observations. Registration is required at Think Like a Comic.

As part of a yearlong initiative exploring comedy as communication, the URI Harrington School of Communication and Media is hosting several comedy-themed events leading up to a 2014 symposium entitled, “Open Mic, Open Minds: An Exploration of Social Issues in Standup.”

“Comedy helps us to communicate about difficult social issues,” said Jillian Belanger, a doctoral student in writing and rhetoric at the Harrington School who is organizing the event. “Sometimes the only way we talk about what really matters is through jokes.” For example, Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen DeGeneres and Joan Rivers presented hilarious and enlightening views of gender and race relationships in their standup comedy routines.

“Humor is an appreciated but understudied area of communication,” said Jeremiah Dyehouse, associate professor of writing and rhetoric and the faculty advisor to the event. “As students explore comedy, they design words and ideas that help them connect to others.”

This year, URI is demonstrating its commitment to comedy by bringing in cutting-edge talents Amy Schumer and Jim Gaffigan, thanks to Michael Nolfe, major events coordinator and advisor to the URI Student Entertainment Committee. The “Think Like a Comic” workshop precedes Jim Gaffigan’s October 19th performance at the Ryan Center.

Workshop participants are guaranteed a spot in the November 25th event, The Last RAM Standing, a comedy competition modeled after NBC’s The Last Comic Standing. The winner of the competition will perform at the Open Mic, Open Minds symposium in March.

At that event, Jerry Zolten, professor of speech communication at Penn State Altoona, will give a multimedia keynote address on the historical roots of standup comedy. “It’s important to situate an exploration of comedy in historical context,” said Belanger. “We see how comedy enables people to enter into a conversation about social issues that might not otherwise be possible.”

For more information, visit Information or contact Jillian Belanger at