Tuesday’s Honors Colloquium examined the relationship between law and humor and presented real court case examples, continuing the semester’s series “The Power of Humor”.
Laura E. Little, a professor of law and government in the Charles Klein School at Temple University, has been working for years to bring together her knowledge of law and her passion for humor. Though law has been the primary focus of her schooling and research, the love of humor has found its way into her work.
“I didn’t have a ‘Eureka!’ moment, when I decided I’d love to study humor,” Little said. “I’ve always been intrigued by what makes an audience laugh. I particularly started to think about it when I started to teach, because sometimes I would say things where I was not trying to be funny and the class would erupt into laughter, and there were other times when I tried to be funny and I fell flat.” She recalled a time when she was in undergraduate school, and wrote a paper on malaprops; she said that she was fascinated in trying to figure out what makes those funny.
Little’s colloquium covered the different aspects of humor, and the laws that seem to have the most frequent effects on them. She spent time focusing on three theories of humor: Superiority Humor, Incongruity Humor and Release Humor. Little went on to explain that there are generally four types of laws that affect the types of humor: Contract, Trademark, Employment Discrimination and Defamation. Providing real life examples, she demonstrated the logic behind certain court decisions and the implications tied to them.
In addition to being a professor of law and government at Temple’s Law School, Little has begun teaching her first undergraduate course this semester. In the brand new course, “The Law in Popular Culture”, Little fuses the study of humor that she loves with law cases from many different angles of pop culture.
“The class was a lot of work to put together because I am trying to use a lot of popular culture examples,” Little said. “I don’t actually watch television, and people are surprised by that. I am fascinated by it, but I just don’t make the time to watch it. So what I did to prepare was to ask everyone I knew under 30 [years old] for examples of things in different categories. My kids are in their 20s, so I got a lot from them.”
Collecting, collating and organizing materials for this brand new class was a big undertaking, but it has going well in Little’s opinion. She made note of differences in dynamics of this class and her law classes.
“One thing that is different about undergrad teaching is that in law school, there is one assessment at the end of the semester, and the undergrads are getting grades back now,” Little explained. “I think the law school students are a little upset about that.”
As an accomplished author as well, Little has three books in her repertoire and dozens of articles and publications. Up to this point, her books have been strictly law-based. In her newest book, being published by Oxford, she plans to bridge the gap with her passion for humor.
The Honors Colloquium will be returning to Edwards Auditorium on Tuesday Nov. 17, with R. Bruce Baum. Baum will discuss “Humor and Disability.” For more information on the honors colloquium, please visit http://web.uri.edu/hc/.