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Comedy Writing: Are You Joking?

The ability to write great comedy requires not only a keen eye and ear for potential material, but also mastery of the nuances of language, an understanding of rhetorical forms and devices, and a critical awareness of the writer-performer-audience dynamic.

In “Comedy Writing:  Are You Joking?,” we will begin by looking to the history of theories of comedy to enrich our understanding of the nature and function of humour, including its social—and sometimes deeply anti-social—roles. We will also examine the work of several seminal twentieth- and twenty-first century comedians. The course will then move to a workshop format in which students will be required to complete exercises, write and rewrite on a regular basis, and give and receive constructive criticism on works-in-progress. Since comedy writing is also a vocation, the course will also include guest talks on industry realities, as well as craft, from working professionals who write for stand-up, sketch, improv, radio, and television.

By the end of this course, students will have produced a number of complementary comedic pieces, be it several essays, a collection of sketches, or stand-up routines of various lengths.

Start Date: January 18th, 2016
End Date: February 24th, 2016
Class Meets:  Mondays and Wednesdays
Time: 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Duration: 6 weeks
Location: TBA
Fee: $395.00* (plus applicable government taxes)

*McGill students, staff, and alumni are eligible for a 20% discount

Please note registration is closed.


  • develop an understanding of theories of humour and comedy and the evolution of comedic writing during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries
  • demonstrate an ability to exploit fundamental elements and techniques of comedic writing
  • demonstrate an understanding of the creative process, from inception to performance
  • develop an ability to critically analyze one’s own and others’ work
  • establish and maintain a writing regimen
  • develop a writerly awareness of both self and tradition
  • develop an understanding of different forms, styles, and genres of humour
  • produce a small body of original comedic work ready for publication, recording, or performance


Theories of Humour and Comedy:

  • what is humour or the comedic? (a survey of major philosophers and theorists, such as Aristotle, Kant, Schopenhauer, Bergson, and Freud)
  • historical survey of seminal stand-up comics and comedic works
  • comedic forms (e.g., joke, essay, sketch, speech, script)
  • comedic genres (e.g., observation, shock, blue, dark, satire, alt)
  • comedic elements (e.g., rhythm, meter, timing, exaggeration, repetition, comparison)

Self and Other:

  • the self: why and how do you want to be funny? how might you be funny?
  • the audience: who are they, why are they there, and what do they want or expect?
  • your relationship to your audience

Comedy Practice:

  • truth and honesty
  • going on instinct
  • coming up with material
  • putting ideas down on paper
  • testing and working out ideas before an audience
  • the editing process
  • reading and reacting to different audiences

The Business of Comedy:

  • work opportunities in comedy writing
  • how to pursue a career in comedy writing

Who Should Attend

This course will be of interest to those who would like to:

  • understand the craft and essential elements of comedy writing
  • learn how to write a variety of comedic forms and genres
  • approach their comedic writing more critically and analytically
  • better understand and develop their own comedic potential
  • establish a regular and productive writing regimen
  • learn about the business side of writing comedy from professional writers and performers
  • develop an understanding of theories of humour and comedy and the evolution of comedic writing during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries


David Heti is a stand-up comic and writer. David has performed throughout New York, London, Toronto, and Montreal and has appeared at festivals such as Just For Laughs, JFL42, Montreal Sketch and Fringe Festivals, the Cleveland Comedy Festival, Toronto’s Dark Comedy Festival, North by North East, and Halifax Pop Explosion. David's first live, full-length comedy album, It was ok, an album of comedy by David Heti, was recently re-released by Stand Up! Records, a comedy label whose discography includes the work of Doug Stanhope, Marc Maron, Maria Bamford, Hannibal Buress, and more. His comedy can also be heard on Pandora, SiriusXM Radio and The Best of Montreal Comedy Album.

David holds a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Toronto and a B.C.L./LL.B. from McGill University’s Faculty of Law. He has written for legal dictionaries, academic journals, bioethics essay collections, and VICE. Once upon a time, David was a litigator with the Department of Justice Canada. They were not amused.

Cancellation Policy

All cancellation requests must be made in writing on-line: click here to cancel. Please note that you will be required to quote your registration reference number.

If you cannot attend the course but wish to send someone in your place you must make a request for the substitution in writing to mwc [at] mcgill [dot] ca.

The following cancellation policy applies:

Up to 14 days prior to the start date: Full refund
Up to 7 days prior to the start date: Refund minus $100 cancellation fee
Within 7 days prior to the start date: No refund

If no notice is given prior to the start of the course and you fail to attend, you will be liable for the full course fee.

The MWC reserves the right to cancel this course up to 5 days prior to the event.

Contact Information

Telephone: 514-398-7109
E-mail: mwc [at] mcgill [dot] ca