All the funny people I know have dreamed of a career in comedy. Yet, as with so many fields, the industry has a serious diversity problem — not only in terms of gender but also race, orientation, and just about anything that makes you ‘other’. Which is daft because experience makes you funny, and no one has more life experience than people outside the mainstream.
If you saw Lynn Harris’s excellent piece in TIME about why the Louis CK controversy is yet another reason we need more women in comedy, you might be as excited as I was to find out that Harris’s GOLD Comedy — a school specifically for girls, women and ‘others’ — now offers courses online.
Personally, I’d be wayyy too scared to rock up to something in person, at least at first. So the low-cost ($19, about £14), all-online ‘How To Do Comedy: A Workshop for Girls & “Others”‘ seemed ideal for dipping a toe into the waters of hilarity. Here’s how I got on.
Doing comedy in your pants
The course is entirely online. So I don’t have to get dressed or make any attempt to look like a human. Great, we’re off to the best possible start. And then I read the intro:
“This workshop is super girl-forward, but we welcome people from all genders and generations looking for a SAFE AND FUNNY SPACE to build their comedy chops, confidence, college apps and resumes, career assets, bully/patriarchy-vanquishing skills. Basically, if you want to SLAY, you have come to the right place.”
Oh hell yes. This course is for me.
The whole thing runs within your browser — you don’t need software or an app, and all the modules and tasks are neatly arranged on the left so you can go back and forwards at your own pace. You can also go back and look at all the modules whenever you need a refresher.
Each module offers an assortment of content: videos, quizzes, resources, tasks, challenges and reading. The videos are presented by the comedian Elsa Waithe, who reminds me of Uzo Aduba in the best way. She’s chilled, funny and personable, and breaks everything down into tiny chunks so you really understand the elements of a joke before you put them back together your own way.
Be warned: hearing jokes deconstructed in this way takes all the funny out of them. That’s normal: it’s like sitting in the audience for a live taping of a sitcom and trying to laugh at the same joke on the fifteenth take. But it really helps you get to grips with exactly what’s happening in a joke: how the elements are structured and why.
Once you start learning the joke formats, by the way, you’ll hear them everywhere. It’s kind of amazing how completely different comedians’ material breaks down along the same lines — and once you’ve taken this course, you’ll always spot it.
Wait, I have to actually try?
This is not a passive, sit-there-and-absorb kind of deal. Yes, you watch the short videos (between 5 and 15 minutes each) and read the resources, but there are also tasks and challenges to do, and this is where you should put the time in. It’s easy to skip over them, or put them off ’til later, but I found that most of the fun and all of the progress happened in these sections.
Plus the tasks are written to be inclusive, which gave me the warm fuzzies. For instance:
“YOU ARE ENTIRELY COMPLETE WITHOUT A BONUS ROMANTIC PARTNER BUT: Describe your boyfriend/girlfriend. If you don’t have one, what is a perfect boyfriend/girlfriend to you?”
“LOOKS REALLY DON’T MATTER BUT: What is your favorite physical feature? What is your least favorite?”
It’s so refreshing to actually have this stuff considered. Elsa’s references to some of the systemic problems in comedy (sexism, racial stereotyping and so on) were appreciated too. They might not improve your act, but they’ll help you navigate the politics of the industry.
So am I famous now?
How much you get out of ‘How To Do Comedy: A Workshop for Girls & “Others”‘ will at least partly depend on how much you put in. You have to actually do the tasks, and you don’t get feedback from the course (there’s no submission portion), so it’s up to you to go and practice your material on friendly ears. But as an introduction to something that can seem huge, scary, and incredibly unwelcoming to marginalised people, the course is a really strong start.
“No one has ever died from not getting a laugh” – Elsa Waithe
I’ve come out the other side knowing how to write and remix jokes, noticing the structure and setup of different comics’ acts, and with a whole list of helpful tips I would have had no way of knowing about otherwise. Oh, and in the process I heard about some kickass women comedians that I’ll be checking out for sure.
The whole course left me thinking ‘comedy IS a place for me, I can do this’ — and that’s priceless. Alternatively, it’s $19 on the GOLD Comedy website.