Though the 2014 Honors Colloquium still has a week to go, plans are already well underway for next year’s lecture series, entitled “The Power of Humor.”
The colloquium will explore the contexts in which humor is used as a tool for communication and the many roles it plays in everyday life. Rachel DiCioccio, associate professor of communication studies and colloquium co-coordinator, said the series will look at humor from the perspectives of healthcare, advertising, law and politics, among others.
“Our ultimate goal is to touch on the many different aspects of humor,” she said. “We picked this topic because we think it’s very diverse and entails a lot of context and is relatable to all of us. We experience it in different facets of our lives every day.”
DiCioccio and Brian Quilliam, associate pharmacy professor and co-coordinator, also want to look at the craft of humor. Â They hope to look at the art and history of both standup comedy and cartooning.
“People use humor in lots of ways and we want to learn from them and see how they come up with some humorous and very funny things,” Quilliam said. “Sometimes it’s just to make people laugh, but other times it’s really to push forward social movements, or cultural change or to get people thinking about issues that they may have otherwise shied away from. Humor might take the edge off and allow for broader discussion.”
The coordinators are looking for speakers who are both scholars and practitioners of humor.
“We’re looking for people who use humor and can be funny but certainly this is more focused on how they use humor,” Quilliam said. “So they do practice humor in many different facets, but they have an understanding of why and how and the implications of that and so we think that really adds a richness to the colloquium,” DiCioccio said.
DiCioccio is an experienced scholar of teasing communication and the usage of humor. She has authored a book on the subject, titled “Humor Communication,” which she uses in her honors course of the same name.
“[The book] looks at both the positive and the negative uses of humor communication: how we use it to foster resilience and strength, and how we use it aggressively to put others down and position ourselves in a place of superiority,” she said.
Students in her class study the usage of humor in a variety of contexts and then evaluate the impact humor has in those contexts. DiCioccio and Quilliam are adapting material from that course for the class that will accompany the colloquium.
Due to his background in public health, Quilliam’s interest in humor communication stems from his research on influencing populations to adopt healthier behaviors.
“You do this great research and you do these great things and you want people to adopt and understand and incorporate some of these things into their daily lives, and so certainly humor is one way to do that and reach audiences,” he said.
Quilliam explained that the methods of threatening the public used in the 1940s and ‘50s health movement don’t necessarily work, and that new methods of persuasion need to be explored.
“The modern public health movement is learning a lot from how we draw people in and get our message across without using that threatening, dictating tone,” he said. “Humor is a way to make it more approachable.”
DiCioccio explained that humor in general is gaining momentum as its own topic of research. “It’s sort of studied by people in little pockets and we are interested in looking at it, but it’s just now catching on where we’re seeing it as this tool across contexts and across relationships,” she said. “Although you think someone who studies public health and someone who studies relationships and interpersonal communication might not have things in common, humor is this common link and communication skill that is connecting all these different contexts.”
Honors Program Director Lynne Derbyshire expressed her appreciation to the coordinators for proposing such an original topic for the next colloquium.
“We thought that they had come up with a topic that was both innovative and broadly relevant to students at the university as well as our broader community,” she said. “So we’re very excited to have the opportunity to have them explore the universal concept of humor across a variety of content areas.”
The coordinators’ overall goal is to have both the students in the honors program and the colloquium attendees recognize that humor is in their daily lives and that there are both good and bad results of using humor to communicate.
“We can walk away with some scholarly knowledge, but you also get the application in your everyday life, and so we like that aspect of the colloquium that people can pick and choose from the speakers what really resonates with them and leaves a lasting impact,” DiCioccio said.