English 165AC

Special Topics in American Cultures: American Humor and Fictions of Race

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2021 Fehrenbacher, Dena
MWF 1-2


American humor practices have long been a means for bolstering fictions about race, ethnicity and identity, but they also have been a means for understanding, navigating, and challenging those fictions. This course will explore how a range of literary and artistic mediums—from novels to comic books, movies to standup specials—have used humor to interrogate the fictions of race. In doing so, this course will consider some of the practices and histories that distinguish American humor: the role of oral performance, the centrality of topics like race and ethnicity, and the influence of an African American humor tradition on practices of American humor broadly. 

While this course will begin with histories of humor in the 19th century, the course will focus on the 20th and 21st centuries and will be organized by genres and mediums: texts may range from novels by Philip Roth to Paul Beatty, essays by Ishmael Reed and Cathy Park Hong, standup performances from Richard Pryor to Ali Wong, short stories from Charles Chesnutt to Junot Diaz, television shows like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Fresh Off the Boat, as well as comics, movies, sketch comedy, and visual art. The end of this course will focus on art of the present, and students will be encouraged to identify and engage sites of American humor in their contemporary moment.

This course satisfies U.C. Berkleley's American Cultures requirement.

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