Stand up, stand up for theses

25th June 1999 at 01:00
WHY DID the stand-up comic cross the road? To get to the lecture theatre to deliver his talk on the semiotics of sitcoms.

Comedy used to be the new rock 'n' roll - now it's the new sociology, to judge by two recent appointments. Teesside University has taken on former stand-up comic Paul Wells as professor of media and cultural studies.

The University of Kent at Canterbury, meanwhile, has hired Dr Oliver Double as its very first academic teaching the "theory and practice of stand-up comedy" as part of its drama degree.

Professor Wells' days at the mic are behind him, but he remains fascinated by the "human glue" of comedy and its ability to "shortcircuit the intellect". He says he doesn't like jokes (he prefers situations), but he could just be having us on. And he's writing a book on the American sitcom.

Dr Double until recently ran and compered his own weekly comedy club in Sheffield and when The TES rang was still coming down from the exhilaration of playing to "20 people in Altrincham". But put on the spot, he couldn't think of a joke to tell us.

His heroes range from naughty vaudevillian Max Miller to agitpropper Mark Thomas: his own act is a mix of madcap performance art and "topical, political, scatological" conversation.

With a PhD in stand-up comedy, for the past couple of years he has been running a similar course at Liverpool John Moores University - sending out his drama students to the local pubs for their final assessment. All survived; some were even quite good.

"There's a lot of mystique surrounding the comic," Oliver says. "It makes them seem to have miraculous powers when in fact it's something they learn over years of performing."

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