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What’s So Funny? New Professor Explores What Comedy Tells Us About Ourselves

Published January 25, 2017 in News

By: Anne E. Bromley | University Communications

Editor’s note: This is another installment in an occasional series profiling members of a generational wave of new faculty members at the University of Virginia.

“Comedy allows us to talk about really hard things,” said Katelyn Hale Wood, an assistant professor of theater studies who joined the University of Virginia’s Department of Drama this fall. She’s teaching “Performing Race and Citizenship in 21st Century USA” this semester, as well as courses on theater history and modern drama, and “Comedy and Protest” next fall.

“Oftentimes, what we find funny or what we find offensive is informed by our politics, as well as our place in the world,” she said. Comedy harnesses the complexities of history and identity, and offers the opportunity for shared understanding in expressing joy and pain. It has a lot to teach us if we think about it after the laughter subsides.

Wood earned her Ph.D. in theater history and criticism with an emphasis in African-American studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014. Prior to her new position, she taught in the Theatre History and Theory program at Miami University.

UVA Today talked with Wood recently about some of the lessons conveyed in comedy and live performance.

Q. I understand you study diversity in theater and comedy. How did you get into this field?

A. Performance for me has always been a potent form of persuasion, a vibrant way we can see ourselves and also see what we want our world to look like. Performance (at its best) is a way to truth-tell.

My master’s degree is in rhetoric and my undergraduate degrees are in rhetoric and gender studies. When I was at the University of Texas-Austin, I became involved with the theater department and the performance studies department, so when I went on to my Ph.D., I decided that’s where I wanted to be because it was a department that was both analyzing and making work that was topically and aesthetically relevant.

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