Sketches, sitcoms, and standup: students enjoy comedic content


Ayesha Sen and Athena Rem

“A couple of laughs a day wash all my stress away,” Eleanor Woodruff (10) said. Woodruff, like much of the school community, enjoys humor and comedy for entertainment and stress-relief, she said. 

Science teacher Oleg Zvezdin watches sitcoms when he does not have the attention or bandwidth for a more serious program, like a documentary, he said.

Conversely, Jaden Richards (12) watches comedy to enhance his understanding of the world around him as well as for entertainment, he said. He typically prefers comedians from the 50s and 60s because of the sense of transparency that is lacking in modern day comedies. Specifically, Richards enjoys the work of George Carlin, a 20th century stand-up comedian who was not afraid to talk about controversial topics, which gave him popularity in the comedy industry, he said.

Comedy shows share many characteristics, but also differ in format, including the types of jokes and styles in which they are delivered. During particularly stressful times, Woodruff typically chooses to watch short comedy sketches, whereas during times where she craves drama and suspense, she watches sitcoms. “Shows without continuous plots are appealing to me when I don’t really want to sit down and focus,” she said. “They are perfect for when I want to multitask.” 

While Naomi Gelfer (9) does not generally enjoy comedic TV shows, she enjoys watching stand-up comedian John Mulaney who she became interested in at the start of the pandemic, she said. “John Mulaney has that unique ability to take a simple story and make it so much more interesting based on his deliberate tone choices as well as the specific jokes he makes.”

Like Gelfer, Molly Goldsmith’s (9) taste in comedy changed during the pandemic. While Goldsmith used to exclusively watch comedy shows with continuous plots, she now enjoys watching Saturday Night Live (SNL) sketches, she said. “I’ve started watching more comedy and especially watching different kinds to find what I really like,” she said. 

Zvezdin is interested in stand-up comedians such as Dave Chapelle, whom he finds humorous and thought provoking, he said. “[Chapelle] has used his platform as a comedian to explore his childhood and shed light on what it is like to grow up and live as an African American in the US,” he said. “I think it allows those who are not prone to thinking deeply about these topics an entry into these conversations in a way that they would not perhaps have in any other ways.”

In contrast, English teacher Harry Bauld enjoys watching theatrical comedy which is intended for a live audience. Bauld enjoys finding contemporary nuances in ancient works, for example, in Aristophanes’ ancient Greek plays and Shakespeare’s work. Ironically, he finds Shakespeare’s tragedies, such as Hamlet, the funniest, he said.

Theo King (11) consumes most of his comedy through the social media platform, TikTok, which grew in popularity during the pandemic, he said. For King, TikTok became a way to escape from the real world, sometimes for hours at a time, he said.

Besides providing pleasure to its viewers, comedy shows are able to effectively portray controversial subjects, Zvezdin said. While he is unsure of whether humor is the “right or wrong” outlet for sensitive topics, comedy sitcoms help normalize representations of minorities, particularly due to their large viewing audiences, he said. The comedy attracts viewers, and then shows can explore sensitive or culturally divisive topics with the fan base. “‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air,’ for example, had an episode where Will Smith was pulled over driving a car and arrested due to the color of his skin,” Zvezdin said. “By portraying this on air on a nationally televised show, this increases the likelihood that the conversation about this will be had in more homes.”

Woodruff has seen an increase in political jokes in comedy sketches within the past few years. While she believes political humor is amusing, she also thinks that comedians need to tread lightly at times to avoid causing major disagreements among audience members with differing political opinions, she said. “A sketch shouldn’t be too centered around one political opinion,” she said. “Sketches should be more about a funny political experience and less of a political debate with a few jokes thrown in.”

Bauld strongly believes in the importance of political humor, citing politics as the only things worth joking about. “The sensitive topics are the meat of comedy because comedy at its funniest is always the most serious,” he said.

Richards said that comedy can induce a sense of normalcy in otherwise controversial or particularly upsetting events, such as the January 6 Capitol riots, he said. Richards has noticed that laughing at tragedies makes it easier for him to comprehend them, since it helps him overcome feelings of disappointment or helplessness. “If we can’t comprehend [these events], how can we ever move past them?” he said. “By joking about [these events], we are able to better understand them, which is better for us in the long run.”

Goldsmith, on the other hand, prefers when politics and comedy are separate, she said. “Sometimes it can be appropriate, but most of the time bringing up politics can detract from the comedy and add an unnecessary level of seriousness.” For example, SNL sketches can become less funny as they try to add in too many political sketches, she said.

Over the pandemic, comedy has become important to many more people than before, Goldsmith said. Comedy sitcoms and humor as a broader subject have become her go-to source for solace. “Whether it is a stressful test coming up or general worries about the pandemic, comedy has become my escape from basically everything.”