Month: January 2020

What’s So Funny? Professor Gina Barreca

In Professor Gina Barreca’s January 17 interview with UConn Today, she speaks with Julie Bartucca of the UConn 360 podcast on the current social landscape as it relates to comedy and what she’s learned throughout her career.

Q: Why, in 2020, are we still discussing whether women are funny?

A: About every five years, I’ll get a phone call from a magazine or someone writing an article and [they’ll] be like, “Men don’t believe that women have a sense of humor.” I don’t know if we need to put up plaques in different places or there need to be monuments. It keeps reappearing, and I think it’s in the same way that we have to be reminded to eat vegetables on a regular basis, or that fiber’s good for you, or that pets can help you live longer or that, violence is an issue in relationships … It’s really astonishing to me that we need to be reminded of this.

I do think that women’s humor is very different from men’s humor, and that’s what I’ve spent 35 years of my life writing about. I think things have changed in the time that I’ve been looking at it, but it does seem as if the point has not quite stuck in a way that continues to surprise me.

Q:  You talk about these very deep issues in your columns: mental health, anxiety, your relationship with your mother, body image issues, equality. People think of humor sometimes as being kind of frivolous, but you’ve made a career of really studying it and understanding it and then writing about serious things with this humor lens. How do you thread that needle?

A: I think that’s a lovely question because I do think that the best humor, and not just women’s humor, but perhaps especially women’s humor, has always dealt with taboo subjects. What humor does is deal with topics that nobody else wants to touch. And so it deals with sex. It deals with death. It deals with money. It deals with trauma. It deals with misery. It deals with discomfort. If a comic is not making somebody uncomfortable, that comic is not doing his or her job.

And because what you’re supposed to do with comedy — and Mark Twain talked about this, Aristophanes talked about this, Sarah Silverman talks about this — is you make the comfortable uncomfortable and you make the uncomfortable comfortable, so that you switch around the balances of power, so that those who believe they are in a position where they’re secure are made antsy, and those who are anxious and nervous are made to recognize that they’re not alone, that other people feel exactly that way.

And so, by talking about what’s meaningful in life, what comedy does is to emphasize what’s significant and not dismiss it. It’s sort of run towards the things that we’re most afraid of as opposed to backing away. So it might be frivolous. I love the word frivolous, actually, because it literally makes light. It sheds light … on the dark corners of things. It takes things out of the shadows and makes them the center of discussion. The best comedy doesn’t trivialize. It emphasizes; it italicizes. It makes us remember and understand something from a different perspective.

And that’s why it’s important. And that’s why it’s always been part of every culture. Every culture has a version of the comic and uses humor. It is a fundamental human expression and way of thinking.

Q: How does this jibe with this whole ‘cancel culture’ thing? You’ve said women can have a great sense of humor and also assert their power by not putting up with offensive jokes. Is it that people can only joke about things they’ve experienced?

A: Humor at its best doesn’t attack what’s vulnerable or weak or defenseless, and so humor that’s going to be original, that is not just a repetition of nastiness, that is not something that is designed to shut somebody up, is never something that we have to worry about.

Humor that is a gag is a whole different category. Think about the word gag for a minute, because a gag is a joke that’s played on you. But a gag is also something put across your mouth so that you shut up. And when humor is used to silence somebody, to make somebody feel awful, to make somebody feel that they have no right to speak, to make them feel as if they are displaced out of the conversation, then that’s not useful. And that doesn’t mean that you have to whine, cry, or call a lawyer.

What it means is that you have to come up with an even better response. If somebody tells you a joke not only that you don’t find funny, but you actually find painful, that you find offensive, you can say, “If you forgive me for not laughing, I’ll forgive you for telling that joke,” and that way you’re not up all night. If you have the strength to say that and you can say it in a funny way, it allows you to keep your sense of self and not be erased.

Because the worst kind of humor makes people feel as if they’re diminished, silenced, or erased. And so learning how to use humor, not as a weapon, but as a tool, learning how to turn it back on somebody almost as a way of sort of martial arts gives you a sense of power. And that’s really important.

Q: What have you learned through all of this studying, teaching, writing, that has affected how you live your life?

A: [I’ve learned] that almost anything in the world that happens to you can make you either laugh or cry … That choosing how to tell your story, how to look at your story, really is how we write the script of our lives.  It’s not that somehow to tell a funny story about a terrible thing that happened diminishes the importance of it, but it gives you control over it. It becomes your story as opposed to something that happened to you.

If there’s something like, depression, anxiety — both things that I’ve dealt with in my life and in my family — or you’re talking about the complex relationship with my mother who died when I was very young, or any of the difficulties of growing up poor or having to struggle in the earlier part of my life, telling those stories makes me not only examine them and understand them. [It also helps me to] be able, in the best ways, to help other people, especially other women and my students, who are going through difficulties where you feel like you’re never going to be able to get outside the other end to say like, this is how you get outside the other end.

And there is joy that can happen after this. All comics, anybody who has dealt with comedy, understands that pain plus time equals humor. And that’s because you do get a different perspective on it, but it’s not to go back and undo what’s happened, but to put a frame around it so that you can look back and say, “This was that moment. Things have changed. This was what I learned from it. This is what benefited me and this is who I am now because of that.”


Book Launch for Chris Vials

Please join Bill V. Mullen and Chris Vials for the launch of their edited book, The US Antifascism Reader. At this event, Vials and Mullen will read from their book, followed by a conversation with Mark Bray and an audience QandA session.

Books will be available for purchase.
January 31, 2020 from 7.00pm – 9.00pm
Verso Books
20 Jay St. Suite 1010
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Conference on Teaching of Writing

University of Connecticut, First-Year Writing
Fifteenth Annual Conference on the Teaching of Writing
April 17, 2020, UConn Hartford Campus

Making Your Writing Course Move
We invite conference proposals for the University of Connecticut First-Year Writing Program’s Conference on the Teaching of Writing, taking place Friday, April 17, 2020 on the UConn Hartford Campus. Proposal submissions are due February 2, 2020. Our theme this year is Making Your Writing Course Move , with keynote speaker Jenae Cohn of Stanford University; we invite proposals that engage this theme.

UConnFirst-Year Writing is at the end of a multi-year curriculum redesign based on recent research on multimodal composing, accessibility, and digital literacies. As our program and Rhet/Comp in general have experienced a digital
turn, we must also consider the ways digital writing still engages bodies and the role bodies, norms about embodiment, and bodily literacies have in composition in all modes.
Scholars such as Christina V. Cedillo and Robert McRuer have argued that composition courses tend to privilege certain kinds of movement in writing, a movement that also assumes whiteness, ablebodiness, and straightness or wholeness.

This conference asks in what ways instructors of writing can make space for diverse kinds of movement, or facilitate movement that may not always lead to wholeness or completion. Recent work in the field has also considered
how technologies may destabilize traditional or normative modes of composition. Jenae Cohn’s latest work, for example, explores the ways in which digital reading practices and the moves therein create opportunities for more inclusive perspectives of what reading for learning can look like. Her keynote talk will draw upon her forthcoming book, Skim, Dive, Surface: Strategies for Digital Reading in the College Classroom.

We have designed our First-Year Writing classes around five “ course moves ” that prioritize active learning and accessibility. Each move offers a way to think about what we do when we write.

We invite proposals of 250-300 words to consider questions such as:
● What does it mean to move in writing? What does this term afford, enhance, inspire,
entangle, and limit?
● How do we make space for diverse writing moves in our field, classes, or institutions?
How do students engage those moves?
● How is the embodied experience of writing shaped by fields, classes, or institutions?
● How do we see fields, classes, or institutions constructing movement based on race,
class, ability, gender, sexuality, or culture? How might we subvert, push back, or find
space for alternative movements and possibilities within these spaces?
● How does technological composition move ?
● What kinds of bodies get to move through/with technologies? (e.g., how do surveillance
technologies privilege or assume certain kinds of movement? How can we design
technologies for inclusion?)
● What kinds of expressions are possible through/with technologies?
We offer a variety of session types: panels, posters, and workshops, each with their own
affordances. Below, we’ve outlined examples of each, as well as what to expect. Please indicate
which session you will be engaging in your submission form and in your session description.
● Posters can focus on a specific activity or method you use in the classroom, or on a
specific aspect of your in-process research. They can be in digital, analog, and/or
interactive formats, and don’t need to be on a traditional “poster.” Poster presenters have
an opportunity to receive in-the-moment feedback from circulating audience members.
● Panels are ideal for a larger scale intervention; for example, extending recent work in
composition or drawing larger conclusions based in research or case studies. We
especially invite group proposals (at least 3 to 4 people) to submit as a panel. Individual
proposals will be grouped based on the topic.
● Interactive Workshops can engage participants in a classroom exercise, an
activity-based engagement with research or a theory, etc. Workshops should have at
least two presenters.
Apply at our conference website

Michael Robinson on Tribes of the Imagination

“Tribes of the Imagination: How Scientists Created a Prehistory of Whiteness”

Monday, Jan 27, 4pm, UCHI conference room (Homer Babbidge Library)

Michael Robinson is a professor of history at Hillyer College, University of Hartford. He is the author of The Coldest Crucible: Arctic Exploration and American Culture (University of Chicago Press), winner of the 2008 Book Award for the History of Science in America and The Lost White Tribe: Explorers, Scientists, and the Theory that Changed a Continent (Oxford University Press), winner of the History of Science Society’s Davis Prize and finalist for the 2017 Connecticut Book Award. He is the host of the history of science and exploration podcast, Time To Eat the Dogs.

All attendees are invited to join us for a catered dinner (Indian food) after the lecture with Michael.

First Year Writing’s 2020 Winter Welcome

We will meet at 10am in Storrs Hall WW 01 (the big room when you first walk in on the left). We look forward to seeing you there! We’ll be covering some important topics relating to the new curriculum, which will include:

  • Important Program Updates
  • Panel co-sponsored with EGSA consisting of Pilot Instructors from Fall 2019
  • Workshop on Assignment Design that will build on the New Curriculum workshops from fall semester
  • Workshop on Second Language Writing and Transfer 

The Winter Welcome is required for instructors of First-Year Writing, but anyone in the English department is welcome to attend. Please RSVP here: