Comedy Lit. brings new dimension to English offerings

Scott Andrews and Drew Keller

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Comedy Lit. brings out the smiles in seniors Will Mendenhall and Josh Totte. The two students are in one of the first two periods of Paly’s newest class, taught by Lucy Filppu. Photo by Scott Andrews.

Comedy Lit. brings out the smiles in seniors Will Mendenhall and Josh Totte. The two students are in one of the first two periods of Paly’s newest class, taught by Lucy Filppu. Photo by Scott Andrews.

The upbeat tone of the Literature of Comedy, the newest class offered at Palo Alto High School, seems to appeal to a wide range of students: the course is among the most popular English electives in just its first year.

There are four periods of Comedy Lit. scheduled for the 2013-14 school year, encompassing 122 students. The course, taught by English instructor Lucy Filppu, is a college preparatory elective offered to upperclassmen that focuses on comic traditions and periods in literature.

“My biggest goal is that [the students] can come out with a new lens to view… all kinds of text,” Filppu said. “I don’t see how you could lose having comedy in your vocabulary.”

The class will cover a wide variety of topics, starting with the foundations of comedic writing and proceeding through a historical overview of comedy. Projects will include reading a play by Shakespeare and a Greek comedy, among other works. Students will also write their own plays and take part in a “My Comedic Self” exercise in which they show the class an artifact that they find funny.

By the end of the class, Filppu hopes students will be able to write a “scathing satire of Palo Alto or some modern era, based on [the writings of] Jonathan Swift.”

Filppu initially decided to develop the class due to her desire to add humor to Paly’s English offerings, a quality she feels is ignored in some of the core curriculum.

“I kind of feel this overriding sense that Paly could be funnier and the whole ethos of our campus could be more funny and witty,” she said. “I don’t think we parody ourselves enough.”

The Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education and the University of California Office of the President approved the course earlier in the year, making it the only new class added to Paly this school year and the first added to the English department since the introduction of Escape Lit. in fall 2011. The total number of English electives will remain the same, however, as the Shakespeare/Chaucer course has been dropped due to insufficient enrollment.

In the end, Filppu hopes to add a lighter element to Paly’s often stressful environment with her introduction of Comedy Lit.

“I don’t think we give students enough chances to think comically,” she said. “We’re way too serious on this campus. Comedy is great stress relief.”