Micro-Lesson | Michael Shilling: Being Funny

Posted Wed, 2/18/2015 - 3:24pm by  |  Category:

Welcome to our new series, Micro-Lessons, where we offer you a taste of our upcoming classes.


Being Funny with Michael Shilling
Begins Feb. 24, 7–9 p.m.

Short Quote from Provided Reading & Why It’s Relevant

“One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin. He lay on his armour-like back, and if he lifted his head a little he could see his brown belly, slightly domed and divided by arches into stiff sections. The bedding was hardly able to cover it and seemed ready to slide off any moment. His many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, waved about helplessly as he looked.”

We’re going to be looking at the ways that language creates humor—how syntax, diction, and rhythm work together to make material tragic, comic, or tragi-comic. This is a serious opening, but only because the writing style dictates that tone. Written another way, it could be hilarious.


Working from the concept presented above, students rewrite the first paragraph of Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” to make it as funny as possible. Because that story is actually a hoot. And a holler. A gothic holler, even.

A Piece of Writing Advice You Often Give in Class

(Almost) any topic can be funny. It’s just how you use language and the context in which that language appears. To demonstrate, we’ll do the opposite of what we do in the prompt in No. 2 and rewrite a section of Maria Semple’s Where’s You Go, Bernadette? to be dead serious. It’s a kind of reverse-engineering—I think. I mean, I don’t know much about engineering but I know what I like.


Among other activities, in class, we’ll be looking at a clip from a film—a scene from The Pink Panther Strikes Again—and then writing the scene as fiction to see how humor works differently across forms, as well as how prose humor is dependent on the rich inner lives of characters, as expressed in narration. Filmic humor is more based in visuality.