Instructor: Madison Priest                                                                       Office: 7-290E

Class Time: W/F 12:25 – 1:35                                                 Office Hours: Tues: 11:30 – 12:30

Conference Time: W/F 1:35 – 2:05                                                    Fri: 2:30 – 3:30 or by appointment

Classroom: 23-1403                                                                                    Email:


Required texts

  • Little, Brown Handbook
  • Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest (Dover Thrift Editions, $1.35 on Amazon)
  • The rest of the texts (marked with asterisks on the course schedule) will be available on the course website under the “Readings” tab. The password is “justkidding”.

Course Description

            Much is suggested by the terms “comedy” and “satire”: some of us might think of stand-up comedy or slapstick movies; others might think of puns or dirty jokes; still others might think of biting social commentary, mockumentaries or parodies; and others of us still might think of the theater and the ancient division of all drama into comedy and tragedy. Stephen Colbert, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Tina Fey and Shakespeare—can all these really belong to the same universe of comedy and satire?

This semester we will watch television shows, read plays, and listen to stand-up while considering classic and contemporary theories of humor, laughter, and comedy. Although we may find it difficult to define these terms, this semester we will assume that by writing and thinking about this subject, we can enter a lively debate on the topic. There is also a great deal to be learned about writing by studying satire and comedy: jokes, like essays, are structured for maximum effect; satire uses rhetorical devices to persuade readers just as essays do; comedians and writers both must be masters of tone and point of view; and so much of comedy and satire hinges on the effects of language. Students will use our discussion of these devices of comedy and satire as jumping off points for thinking about and developing their own skills as writers.

Learning Goals for 2100 and 2150: After completing ENG 2100 and 2150, students should be able to …

  • identify the key ideas and techniques used in a variety of articles, essays, and literary works, and subject these works to logical analysis;
  • undertake writing as a process requiring the outlining of ideas, multiple drafting, and revision of complete essays;
  • create an original and cogent thesis and develop an imaginative argument in unified and coherent paragraphs;
  • observe sentence boundaries, punctuate correctly, vary sentence structures, and employ the conventions of standard English grammar and usage;
  • engage with different genres of writing, including the short story, the novel, the essay, poetry, and drama, and comprehend and use appropriate vocabulary in interpreting the material by paying close attention to language and style;
  • identify, analyze, and synthesize multiple sources as support for written arguments;
  • gauge the value of different strategies for argumentation, including the use of counter-arguments;
  • produce researched essays that incorporate sources and that effectively evaluate multiple (and even conflicting) points of view;
  • avoid plagiarism and understand why it is unacceptable, at the same time learning how to appropriately document your research and ideas;
  • imagine the needs of one’s reader when writing in different rhetorical modes and social contexts and take audience and occasion into account when writing.

Course Requirements:

Class Participation: 10%

Students are expected to do the reading for each class and to come prepared to engage respectfully with their peers. Failure to keep up with the reading, to participate in class discussions, and/or to attend individual conferences scheduled for the last half hour of class will result in loss of points.

Presentation: 5%

Students will give a five minute presentation at the end of the semester on a comic text of their choice.

Pre-draft Assignments: 10%

Students will compose five informal pre-draft assignments (2pp each).

Papers: 75%

  • Paper 1: 10%
  • Paper 2: 20%
  • Paper 3: 15% 
  • Paper 4: 30%

Attendance Policy: Student attendance is expected at all scheduled classes unless excused by the instructor due to extenuating circumstances (illness, family emergency, religious holiday, etc). For an absence to be excused, the student must inform the professor in advance of the absence and must provide documentation. Three or more unexcused absences will result in a failing grade for class participation, and four or more unexcused absences will result in a failing grade for the course. Please be aware that any tardy of more than 15 minutes will be recorded as an absence, and every three tardies of under 15 minutes will be counted as one absence towards the total absence limit. No more than five total absences will be permitted under any circumstances.

Paper Submission and Formatting:  All papers should be submitted with proper MLA formatting and in keeping with the assigned length; papers that fail to meet these requirements (i.e. are improperly formatted and/or too short/too long) will not be accepted for credit. All papers should be turned in in hard-copy at the beginning of class on the day it is due and electronically to before midnight on the day it is due. The class ID for is 7014149 and the password is “justkidding.”

Re-writes:   If you are not satisfied with the grade received on Paper 1 and/or Paper 2, you may choose to re-write for full grade replacement. In the unlikely event that the grade for the re-written paper is lower than the original grade, the original grade will stand. In order to be eligible to rewrite your paper, you and I must either speak in person or exchange a few emails about your plans for revising your paper. All changes in re-written papers should be set in italics, unless more than 75% of the paper has been changed. Each re-write must be accompanied by the first version of your paper with my comments. Please note that late penalties ARE carried over to revisions. No re-writes will be allowed for Paper 3 or 4. Re-writes are due at the beginning of class one week after the paper is returned to you.

Late Paper Policy: Students are expected to meet all assigned deadlines except in cases of emergency (which, as for excused absences, must be documented and requested as soon as possible in advance of the deadline). Emergency extensions do not include foreseeable conflicts (religious holidays, unavoidable travel) for which the student may reasonably plan ahead. Late papers will be reduced by 1/3 of a letter grade for each day (24 hour period) that passes after the deadline before the paper is received; that penalty will increase to 2/3 of a grade per 24 hours for the second late and subsequent late papers. No papers will be accepted for credit more than ten days after the given deadline.

Academic Integrity Policy: Cheating and plagiarism will not be tolerated and will result in a failing grade for the given assignment; patterned academic integrity violations will result in a failing grade for the course. All violations will be brought to the attention of the Baruch administration. For the purpose of this course, the definitions of cheating and plagiarism employed will be such as are offered by the Baruch College Academic Honesty website. For more information, see:

In-class behavior: Please bring the text under discussion to every class.  Make sure that you have read the material assigned and have done the writing required for a given day.  If you don’t volunteer, I will call on you in class, so be prepared to have something to say.  But please be aware that I am not trying to embarrass you or put you on the spot; rather, I am trying to involve you in the conversation, get some of your ideas out in the open, and explore the subject matter.



In your pre-draft assignment, you explored how humor functions in one passage of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest by conducting a thorough close reading of that passage. Now, expand upon your work by considering how that analysis (or further consideration of it, or consideration of a different passage entirely) taught you something about how humor functions in the play. Your paper should focus on a close reading of one or two passages, but you may bring in other parts of the text as they are relevant to your thesis. Keep in mind that you are not trying to reiterate ideas we have discussed in class or summarize the text; rather, you are endeavoring to express your own, original idea about the text. Finally, you only have three to four pages in which to get your idea across, so stick to your analysis of the text. Be wary of large, sweeping statements about the nature of the world, while also remembering that one of the reasons we still find The Importance of Being Earnest funny is because it plays with many of the same values (about marriage, the church, class, etc.) we still hold today.

Some questions to consider: how does the joke creates a community of laughers or excludes a community being laughed at? What assumptions have to be shared in order for the joke to be funny? Is the humor conservative (in that it maintains the status quo), subversive, or something else entirely? Do other emotions—anger or fear, for instance—underlie what a character is saying, and how does Wilde convey those emotions through his use of language? For that matter, what else does he convey through his use of language?

Pre-draft assignment 1 (1-2 pp): Perform a close reading of one of the texts we read in class.

What is a “close reading”? This kind of assignment, so often used in college courses, involves looking at just a single text in isolation from contextual sources such as biography, sociology, or history. In a close reading, you should seek out patterns within the work itself, and suggest why those patterns are significant. In addition, you might show how these patterns are sometimes violated or varied. A close reading searches for some meaning behind the words themselves, some meaning that is perhaps not on the surface of the text itself but is implied, hinted at, or perhaps even inadvertently conveyed by the work. Your job is to show how your interpretation, your explanation of the work’s meaning, can be supported by details of the text itself. Don’t arrive at a meaning that everyone will see immediately (this would be so obvious as to be not worth discussing), but a meaning or an interpretation that you, having taken great care analyzing the work, have arrived at and need to convince your readers of.


That different people use humor in different ways and to different ends is a truism hardly worth repeating. In this essay, pick two texts and use the skills you honed in the previous essay to explore how your two authors use humor differently. Your essay should teach us something about each text that we would not have known had you considered them on their own. To wit…

What to do in a compare/contrast. . . This kind of paper tends to rely heavily on “close reading,” often with two close readings placed side by side and evaluated. Typically, in comparison/contrast studies, you will want to argue that there is a striking similarity between two texts that seem on the surface very different; or you want to show some startling contrast or difference between two texts that seem, on the surface, very similar. A third strategy would be to look at one work through the lens of the other.  In this case, you will really focus on an analysis of one text but will use terms, ideas, structures, or the like from a second text as a “lens” to look, in a new way, at the first text. In all cases, the goal of this kind of paper is not only a greater understanding of the two texts (though this is indeed one goal), but also a greater understanding of the ways we approach and understand the texts themselves. For example, comparing a work of fiction to a work of journalism might reveal that these two categories aren’t so different as one might think, with regard to how both come to terms with human propensities and desires.  Likewise, comparing a contemporary piece with an older one might suggest that there are many questions that have yet to be satisfactorily answered—certain issues that speak to us across and throughout the ages.

Pre-draft assignment 2 (1-2 pp): Do two outlines, one proceeding topic by topic; the other, looking at one text and then the other. These may be bullet-point outlines, but you must use complete sentences so I can understand what you’re thinking. Decide which you like best, and hand that one in, briefly arguing why it is preferable to the other. 


In order to begin writing your Researched Argumentative Essay, you must first demonstrate that you understand what others have already said concerning your topic. Start by going to the library and online to find out how other writers have contributed to the debate into which you hope to enter. Then create an annotated bibliography of eight to twelve sources in preparation for your fourth essay.

Nuts and Bolts:

1)      Requirements:

  1. Each annotation must be at least 200 words. Most should be around 250-300.
  2. At least six of your eight to twelve sources must be from your own research, as opposed to videos, radio programs, or readings assigned for this course.
  3. Half of all your sources must be print sources.
  4. Wikipedia, SparkNotes and other websites of that ilk are not appropriate sources.

2)      Formatting your annotated bibliography:

  1. Your annotated bibliography must be double spaced, in Times New Roman 12 point font, and with 1 inch margins: the usual, in other words.
  2. Your question and a provisional thesis must appear at the top of the first page.
  3. Your bibliographic entries must be formatted according to MLA standards.
  4. Your annotated bibliography must have one section for primary sources and another section for secondary sources. We’ll go over the distinction in class, but a good rule of thumb is that any text that analyzes another text is a secondary source.

What is an “annotated bibliography”? This sort of assignment provides a written record of a researcher’s response to primary or secondary sources. Each entry begins with the text’s bibliographic information (in MLA style for the purposes of this class). Then, the researcher provides an annotation of the text, which usually clocks in somewhere between 200 and 400 words. In that annotation, the researcher summarizes the text, assesses the text’s content, and reflects upon its usefulness for the purposes of his or her project. Some questions to consider include: What topics does the author cover? What is the primary argument, main point, or the take-away? Does the author convince you of his or her argument, and if not, how could he or she have done so? Does the text seem reliable? Biased? Was it helpful to you? How? How will it help you shape your argument? How could you use this text in your essay? Has it changed how you think about your topic.

Pre-draft assignment 3 (2 pp): Submit a traditional project proposal. Start off by posing the question that will be the starting point for your essay and explaining why you believe that question is worth pursuing. Then provide a research plan. What do you already know about your topic? What sources do you intend to use that you’ve already read, and how do you think those sources will aid you in your inquiry? Finally, what do you need to learn about your topic in order to write your essay, and how are you going to go about learning it?


For this paper, you have two options: 1) Construct an argument about an author or text you think is misunderstood, explaining first how intelligent people could do and have done so, and then articulating why you believe they are wrong; or 2) Challenge a position we have read or encountered in class. In both cases, you must first demonstrate that you understand what others have already said with regard to the position you are taking up and the position you are challenging. Your essay should be a response to—and an attempt to insert yourself within—the critical conversation about your topic.

Nuts and Bolts:

1)    Your primary text(s) may be taken from the course readings, though they do not have to be.

2)    Use the critical and theoretical texts you unearth during your research—as well as any of the theoretical reading from the beginning of the semester you deem appropriate—as secondary texts.

Pre-draft assignment 4 (2 pp): Give a clear account of the different sides of the debate surrounding your topic using the texts from your annotated bibliography. Keep in mind that there may be more than two sides. Feel free to write this in the form of a debate (as if two or more characters were arguing in a play). In either case, conclude by explaining how you will enter into the debate yourself.

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