Dr Tim Miles

Wednesday, August 5 2015 at 7:30PM

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60 Old Woolwich Road, Greenwich, London SE10 9NY

Dr Tim Miles

What's the talk about?

The children's author EB White once quipped: 'Analysing humour is like dissecting a live frog. No one is interested and the frog dies.' Studying comedy, at university level, has encouraged a number of criticisms, but two have dominated: that it is too frivolous when more 'serious' matters need to be investigated; and it is somehow beyond investigation because some people are just funny - they have 'funny bones' - and cannot, therefore, be taught. Reflecting this, when politicians, and the various advisory bodies, consider the direction that Higher Education should take, rarely are there worries that comedy is being insufficiently studied or researched. Instead, comedy is seen as something that should be extra-curricular, like the Footlights at Cambridge, and not part of serious academic work. To suggest otherwise leads to accusations of 'dumbing down', wasting public money, and 'soft' subjects on the curriculum.

In this talk I want to suggest that studying comedy offers us fascinating insights and important possibilities. A sense of humour, and a capacity to laugh in response to a cognitive or emotional state, is unique to humans. It is not surprising, therefore, that by looking at laughter we can discover important aspects about what it means to be human. The talk will seamlessly (hopefully) explore a path through evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, health care, pedagogy, cultural anthology, the performing arts, and other academic fields, looking at the work of comedy and humour scholars. Specifically, the areas discussed will include: the benefits of tickling rats to neuroscience; why Jeremy Clarkson is of political significance; and why you can get away with making very close-to-the-knuckle jokes in Japan but only under very specific circumstances. The talk will also briefly look at stand-up comedy, and my own doctoral research in which I argued that laughter rarely has much to do with anything being objectively funny, but is more connected to human relationships. I also want to briefly argue that teaching stand-up to undergraduates has value beyond an academic study of a performing art, in that it works well with widening participation goals, as well as developing vocational and transferable skills. Finally, I shall examine Bright Club, the comedy club where academics present research as comedy.

Tim Miles wrote jokes for BBC radio as an undergraduate, subsequently running his own comedy club booking the then-unknown Al Murray and Graham Norton. Having taught in Higher Education for ten years he was awarded a PhD by the University of Surrey in 2014, his doctoral research examining ways of analysing live stand-up comedy. He has been a member of the editorial board of Comedy Studies since 2010. He has published on a number of areas relating to comedy, including: comic responses to the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland; humour and the erotic; and emotion in stand-up comedy. In 2015 his book Reading between the Punch-Lines; a Guide to Analysing Stand-up Comedy will be published. In 2015 he will also be editing an edition of Comedy Studies devoted to Japanese comedy. He occasionally performs stand-up at various Bright Clubs, winning the 'worst pun' award in 2013 for a joke about Nietzsche, which he promises not to tell during this talk.