The vibrant comedy scene on USC’s campus is a beloved part of the student experience, and it’s evident that the USC School of Dramatic Arts takes comedy seriously. Where else can you start your day in classes like USC Comedy Live (a collaboration between the Schools of Dramatic Arts and Cinematic Arts that produces three live filmed comedy sketch shows each semester), or bring joy to the patients and staff of Los Angeles General Medical Center through the USC Comic+Care program, and then end your day at a special event with comedy legends like USC alumni Will Ferrell (BA ‘90) and Beck Bennett (BFA ‘07)?
With the sheer range of opportunities available, it’s no surprise that the School of Dramatic Arts’ Comedy Performance Minor is one of the School’s most popular minors. Led by SDA faculty members Zachary Steel and Kirstin Eggers, the Comedy Performance minor is the ultimate complement to any field of study. It helps students hone their communication and interpersonal skills, teaches collaboration skills while also nurturing individual creativity. The students discover that learning to create comedy is also learning to create community and a way to connect with others through laughter.
In minor classes, students learn from industry professionals with years of experience, representing a wide range of disciplines, including stand-up, improv, sketch and physical comedy, as well as magic, clown and sitcoms.
Whether they dream of having their own Netflix comedy specials or being an exceptional collaborator in their chosen areas of study, or they simply enjoy bringing more joy to their lives, the comedy performance minors featured here are bringing a not-to-be-missed dimension to their college experience.
Major: Political Science/Minor: Comedy
Kyra Obaid is a political science major with a passion for social justice and plans to become a defense attorney. She discusses how the comedy minor has become an avenue for her to explore social commentary, as well as a way to develop confidence and charisma that will serve her in future endeavors.
When did you first realize you had a serious interest in comedy?
I loved how comedy could be used as a commentary. I loved learning the theories about comedy. To do improv, and to have to be on the spot. To be able to come up with something that could make people laugh that quickly—it’s something I fell in love with.
What experiences and classes have you taken for the minor?
The professors that teach comedy and the environment of the comedy minor really emphasizes community. I feel like there are a lot of connections that we’re all making that we’ll be able to use later on. I really like that about my comedy classes.
You mentioned that comedy is an avenue for social commentary. How so?
That’s one of the first things that drew me to comedy. It makes it palatable, where people want to listen. If a politician tells you something, you may tune it out. In my political science classes, we talk about how if you plan to be a political official, you’ll need charisma. Comedy really helps with that. It really helps me open up and makes me feel more comfortable and confident walking through the door, knowing that I have these tools and skills that I’ve learned from professors who specialize in it.
Have there been moments or experiences that have left a big impression?
I took Improv 2 and Improv 3 with Professor Paul Hungerford. I always understood that theatre classes help you with skills like public speaking, presence and charisma, but he was the first person I’ve met teaching the rules of improv and applying them to real life. For example, in improv, they say “you have to lose to win.” Sometimes you can’t keep topping each other because we need to finish the scene and land it somewhere. That can be applied to disagreements with people in real life. You have to take a step back, and instead of trying to argue, you have to come to a resolution.
Has comedy helped you become a better performer in general?
It helps me do presentations in other classes, it makes the nerves go away. When you do the most embarrassing things in front of other people, then doing normal things in front of them isn’t hard. In every class you’re constantly getting up in front of your peers. You get so comfortable in front of others. I think it will really help me, especially going into being a defense attorney: when you’re at trial, you need to be good at public speaking. I think that this has really given me that tool.
What would you say to students on the fence about doing the comedy minor?
Not only are the classes really fun, and the professors really great, but I’ve gotten so many tools that I use in my other classes. I feel more comfortable talking to my professors because of the safe spaces I’ve had in my comedy classes. I have the confidence to know that whatever career I pursue, I can always draw upon these skills. They’re skills you can use the rest of your life.
Major: Computer Science/Minor: Comedy
Arjun Bedi is a computer science major considering pursuing a career in artificial intelligence and entrepreneurship. Arjun discusses how the comedy minor has helped improve his confidence, taught him to be an effective communicator and given him a sense of community at USC.
What made you decide to pursue the comedy minor?
All my classes are large, lecture-style classes. The two comedy classes I’m in this semester are the complete opposite of that. They have 15 students each and they’re all based on interaction and class participation. You sit in a circle and we do these incredible activities.
What do you get from the comedy classes that you’re not getting from the computer science classes?
The computer engineering classes are very oriented to providing you with knowledge, and you do your best to assimilate that by whatever means you deem necessary. But the comedy classes are completely experiential, and very interaction-based. I think it’s been so fun and very effective. Everything is very hands-on and experiential, as opposed to just a one-way flow of information.
Do you think the comedy minor might help in your future career?
When I was deliberating on adding the minor, I spoke to my dad and asked for advice. He said, ‘It will be such a good decision to do this.’ I think hard skills and technical skills are one thing, but I want to be an entrepreneur, too. Being an entrepreneur takes a lot of social skills, interpersonal skills and communication skills. You have to be an effective communicator. This minor is perfect for that.
All these classes are about shedding your insecurities. One very important thing, for me at least, is that it’s helping me so much with the fear of being judged, and it’s making me a lot more confident. As we grow up and interact with more people, it’s so useful for your career—having confidence, being someone who can communicate effectively, and having this demeanor—that’s what these classes are helping me with. It’s all about self-development. It really translates into everyday life.
Have there been any moments so far that have stood out as impactful during your comedy classes?
Just seeing the change in everyone. In all the classes, especially my Introduction to Clowning class, there are a lot of non-theatre majors. At first, everyone was timid and shy, and wasn’t really bold. But by the end of the class, the energy had completely shifted. I think that was a testament to the class. It just let everyone be so comfortable in each other’s presence, and completely unabashed. Seeing that really impacted me.
What’s the key to exceling at comedy?
I think the key is being 100% comfortable in your own skin. Complete self-acceptance, and shedding that fear of judgment. When I don’t care about what anyone is thinking about me, I just embrace it and put myself out there. I think that confidence and self-acceptance allows for good performance and good comedy.
Major: Health and Human Sciences/Minor: Comedy
Phong Doozy is simultaneously pursuing a BA in Health and Human Sciences and a Master of Health Administration. He has already used the skills he’s learned in the comedy minor to develop courses on comedy and healthcare for Kaiser Permanente and other organizations. He plans to pursue a career as a healthcare administrator.
What made you interested in comedy?
I don’t come from a rich background. My family—there were twelve of us living in San Francisco near the Tenderloin. We weren’t rich, but my family’s always been very comedic. Comedy’s a universal language. I didn’t speak English when I first got to elementary school. The language I could speak was comedy. It helped me relate to people. It was the best gift my grandparents, my cousins and my family could have given me.
What makes comedy such an effective tool in healthcare?
Naturally there are things we’d like to tell a therapist or a friend, but it’s hard. You’re afraid of being judged. When you’re a creator or a comic, you’re the one who writes the narrative, you’re the one who tells the story. If there are some details you don’t want to include, you don’t have to. But if you want to share something about yourself, that helps you and the audience. Comedy reveals just as much as it heals. As you’re storytelling, as you’re revealing information about yourself, and at the same time audience members think, ‘Wow, I do that same stuff.’ People can relate to that.
What’s one thing you’ve taken away from the comedy minor?
In medical clowning, you’re putting yourself at the bottom. The patient is always at the bottom when they enter a clinic or a hospital. When I’m putting myself at the bottom, I’m raising them up. At the end of the day, if you walk past any patient room, how many patients are going to say they want to be in the hospital? They want to go home. We’re the ones who say, ‘Hey, we understand you, we’re hearing you. Come play with us.’ We invite them to our world as much as they invite us to theirs.
Can you remember any specific moments or classes from the comedy minor that have been influential?
One example was in Medical Clowning class my first year. It was a three-hour class. I was exhausted. I’d just finished six hours of class, and now I’m doing medical clowning for three hours on a Wednesday night. I’m meeting the patients where they’re at, pushing myself to be at the bottom. To feel ridiculous things, crawling on the floor, jumping to the ceilings. That made me realize that there’s energy inside of all of us that we don’t explore. That energy is empathy.
Tell me about the curricula you’ve developed.
“Prescriptions for Punchlines” is a recorded class. It’s a recording I sent to Kaiser Permanente, and they offer it on their website. Psychiatrists, physicians, therapists have access to it. It’s free. You don’t need to be a member of Kaiser Permanente to access this resource. Patients who are members, people who are interested in how comedy works in healthcare, and patients who have it recommended by their therapists and physicians are all watching it.
Individuals pay for insurance, as well as companies and governments. Having these courses available helps people, it helps the state and the federal government. At the end of the day, people are asking themselves: “How do I feel? What should I do when I feel this way?” People can communicate better once they understand how they feel. Instead of spending two hours talking to a therapist about why they feel this way, these courses might allow people to find a quicker and less expensive resolution.
What advice would you give to prospective comedy minors?
Comedy performance teaches me that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. In studying comedy, you have to think about what comedy means to you. For me, it means that I’m able to reveal what I enjoy but also heal through the process. In other words, comedy allows me to be authentically me. Before you become a healthcare professional, you have to become authentically you. By being authentically me, people are able to relate to me, and I can better assist them.