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June 19, 2015

Students will be able to major in Comedic Arts at Emerson starting in the fall of 2016 (Molly Boigon/WGBH).

Comedy rules our cultural landscape: President Obama appeared on "Between Two Ferns,"  stand-ups like Amy Schumer have built mainstream careers with lightning speed, the public collectively mourned the end of “Parks and Rec.” Comedy is fun and relevant. But now, it’s also academic.

Emerson College has announced a new major, a four year degree in Comedic Arts. Students will be able to major starting in the fall of 2016, but will be able to apply this upcoming fall. The new degree will incorporate resources from Emerson’s Boston and L.A. campuses.

Martie Cook, who has been working at Emerson for 13 years, will be the director of the new major. Cook says the idea developed four years ago, after demand for comedy classes increased.

“All of these classes that we have, have waitlists,” Cook says. “And given that we have so many alums who have been so successful in all arenas, it just all clicked and it seemed like a no-brainer.”

Emerson has already proven itself to have comedic chops.

The college has been developing comedic talent for years, even before the addition of the major. Programs like “How I Met Your Mother,” “The Simpsons,” “Workaholics,” “The Tonight Show,” and “Girl Code,” all feature the work of Emerson alumni.

Emerson is also known for it’s American Comedy Archives, containing memorabilia and recordings spanning from 1936 to today. The archives were started by distinguished comedian Bill Dana.

Those archives, says Cook, will be an important part of developing the major. In addition to learning the actual skills of comedy, students will study history and theory. For Cook, including these building blocks of comedy was a crucial part of developing the major.

“For us, it was really important that kids not only learn how to write and produce, but they learn the history and theory, and the studies aspects of it,” says Cook.

The major will offer courses like Elements of Sitcom Production, Performing Sketch Comedy, and Theories of Humor and Laughter.

Students are excited about the major. For a year, Emerson has already offered a minor in Comedic Arts. Rising senior Ryan Eatherton has taken some of those classes.

Eatherton says even the most free-spirited comics can benefit from a formal comedy education.

“To fully appreciate things, it never hurts to have a base understanding of the rules and structure of any genre,” says Eatherton.

And Director Martie Cook agrees, though she says that the new program isn’t for everyone. Cook sees the major as something for people with a preexisting knack for comedy.

“You start with a seed of talent, and then through a program like the Comedic Arts major, we’re going to grow that talent,” she says.

Cook sees Emerson as meeting a growing demand -- one that’s driven by Millenials. 

“I watch network news. That’s not how you guys get your news,” Cook says. “You turn to ‘The Daily Show.’ I think comedy is, for whatever reason, the language of your generation.”

comedy, increasing access and success, Emerson

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