One of the things I’ve noticed about my post-PhD life — especially since I started an alt-ac job about 10 months ago — is a strong desire to learn new things and be a student again. I don’t want my penny-pinching, whoops-there-goes-my-grant lifestyle back, but I really miss the luxury of just sitting back and learning something.
Of course, I’m always learning for my research: reading new things, meeting new people, writing different kinds of proposals or projects. But I’m always in the driver’s seat with stuff like that. I’m setting the work schedule; I’m creating the “assignments” for myself; I’m responsible both for the organizational side and the getting it done side of things.
In addition to missing the feeling of being a student, I was also longing for a creative outlet that went beyond the academic writing that I do after work almost every day — and almost every weekend, too.
Plus, my husband (!!) is 3000 miles away, waiting on the results of a visa application. I was staring down the barrel of a very, very long summer if I didn’t find another way to be with people and keep my mind occupied.
After unsuccessfully auditioning for a local drunk Shakespeare company, I started looking around for other opportunities.
And then a work colleague/friend who also does improv mentioned that she wanted to take a sketch comedy 101 class.
I used to write sketches for a Catholic theatre troupe that I was involved in as a teenager, and then for the Jewish summer camp that I worked for in college. I wrote a couple sketches for a Shakespeare-inspired show during my PhD. But I’d always written to a clear stimulus: a story from a text that needed to be explicated and made accessible for a broad audience. I had never learned how to write sketch just for the sake of it, or to draw inspiration directly from the world around me instead of from a given text.
Probably no one will be surprised to learn that it is ridiculously fun.
I wrote a sketch this week about a germaphobic preschool teacher during flu season for our “fish out of water” week. I’m drawing inspiration from a particularly frustrating email chain at work for this week’s “escalation” assignment. I’m learning, for the first time, the formal conventions behind sketch writing and comedy writing in general: why a particular scenario is funny, and how to replicate that in my own work.
For two and a half hours every week, I sit around a table with twelve other students and our hilarious, kind, wicked smart teacher Emmy and just make shit that’s funny. We read each other’s sketches; we talk about what’s working and what’s not; we watch and analyse vintage SNL, Key and Peele, and Monty Python. It’s awesome.
I think I love this class so much for a few reasons:
1. It’s amazing stress relief. Yes, we have assignments, but it’s super chill. And in class, we just sit around and laugh, and then talk about why we’re laughing, and laugh some more. It’s dedicated laugh time.
2. I get to write stuff that isn’t academic. Don’t get me wrong — I love what I’m working on academically, and where my research is going right now. But research can be exhausting, and having to generate stuff that is good and well thought-through on a tight time budget isn’t easy. Weirdly, having another writing assignment in my week has helped me stay focused, be more productive, and think more clearly when I’m doing academic stuff.
3. I always learn a lot about how to be a teacher by being a student. Emmy’s pedagogy is inclusive, compassionate, and rigorous all at the same time. She’s got a way of delivering critiques that always feels constructive, and she’s very generous with praise. I’m taking mental notes for the next time I get a chance to teach.
There’s not really a message or any deep analysis in this post. I’m learning again. I look forward to Thursday night class all week long. I wanted to share my joy!
I hope your summer brings you something that makes you as happy as sketch 101 has made me 🙂