English 307 is not your average English class — less Shakespeare, more Saturday Night Live.
On Saturday, Feb. 29, the students ofEnglish 307 are putting on a sketch comedy show called "Big Milk: Sketch Sells" at 7 p.m. at Mettlesome, a comedy club in Durham.
English 307, Studies in Fiction and Poetry: Stylistics, is a creative writing course in which a professor may base the curriculum on a topic of their choice. This semester, assistant professor Ross White chose to teach a class on sketch comedy writing.
“It’s kind of like the science of SNL,” student Emily Kramer said.
White said he chose the subject because he has 15 years of experience in comedy theater and a love for sketch comedy. The class was originally going to be offered only once, but will now be offered again in Spring 2021.
“I thought it would be great to give UNC students a way to work a little comedy into their schedules,” White said.
Most of the students taking English 307 do not have any prior experience in sketch comedy, White said.
The upcoming show serves as the students’ midterm exam. They will have another show later in the spring as their final.
“I don't think that a written exam would have done us any justice," senior Myklynn Lapoint said.
The name “Big Milk” came from an inside joke created in class, Kramer said.
“As they were batting around with the name of their group or the show, we noticed we had a number of sketches where the powerful were taking advantage of the less powerful,” White said. “In the tradition of Big Pharma or big government or big tobacco, we’ve got 'big milk.'”
Sketch comedy is a series of short, rehearsed comedy scenes performed by a group of actors or solo.
The students gain experience performing sketch comedy in class. Most of the material comes from readings and videos done outside of class, with a small amount of class time dedicated to lectures. But majority of the time, the students are performing what they have written, Kramer said.
“The precepts of comedy writing are the same as the precepts of all good writing,” White said. “You want to get into a situation as quickly as possible, you want to have well-defined characters who have wants and needs, you want to write realistic dialogue, and then you want your work to have an emotional reaction on the audience.”
White said sketch comedy is specific because writers know exactly what emotional reaction they want from their audience — laughter.
“We all reach a point in our life where we start taking classes that we want to take for fun, and we forget about majors and all of that stuff,” Kramer said. “I feel like we're all in this class for that reason.”
White and his students said they encourage anyone to come out for a good laugh.
“It’s gonna be funny,” White said. “These students, they have been awesome to work with thus far, and I think it's gonna be a fantastic show."
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