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Comedy major launches at Emerson

Martie Cook teaching

Professor Martie Cook, a former TV sitcom writer, will lead Emerson's new major in comedy.

Starting this fall 2015, prospective students can apply to Emerson’s newly announced major in comedy—the first specialized Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Comedic Arts. Classes in the new major will begin in the Fall 2016 semester.

Grounded in the history and theory of comedy with a concentration of practical experiential learning and a capstone project, the BFA in Comedic Arts will focus on preparing students for careers in comedy performance, writing, and production. Last November, Emerson announced it had launched a minor degree program in comedy, officially titled, “Comedy: Writing and Performance.”

“This new degree strengthens Emerson’s commitment to the study of comedy by adding academic rigor and institutional resources from faculty and industry professionals at the main Boston campus and at our Los Angeles facility,” said Emerson College President Lee Pelton. “In keeping with the College’s rich teaching tradition, the new major will combine an academic focus with hands-on opportunities.”

Well-known for its comedic legacy in the entertainment industry, Emerson’s illustrious alumni include executive producer Kevin Bright ’76 (Friends), who is also the founding director of Emerson Los Angeles; producer Norman Lear ’44 (All in the Family, Maude, The Jeffersons); Denis Leary ’79 (Rescue Me, Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll); Jay Leno ’73 (The Tonight Show with Jay Leno); Henry Winkler ’67, H ’78, (Happy Days, Royal Pains); Jennifer Coolidge ’85 (Legally Blonde, Two Broke Girls); producer Vin Di Bona ’66 (America's Funniest Home Videos); comedian and writer Iliza Shlesinger ’05 (Last Comic Standing and the upcoming Separation Anxiety); and many more.

Emerson has long been home to several student comedy performance organizations, including Stroopwafel, This is Pathetic, Police Geese, and several others.

Comedy students

Dan Goldberg '17 and Jack Ross '17 both participate in student comedy performance groups at Emerson. (File Photo by Michelle Kwong '15)

Emerson alumnus and trustee Doug Herzog ‘81, who serves as president of Viacom Music and Entertainment Group and oversees Comedy Central, remarked on Emerson’s long-held reputation for cultivating aspiring comedic artists.

“This is a great moment for Emerson to bring what has become one of our distinctive strengths to the forefront,” Herzog said. “Some schools develop NFL quarterbacks. We develop great comedic talent. With its charged creative and academic atmosphere, no one can deliver what Emerson will to this truly one-of-a-kind program. And that's no joke.”

“Some schools develop NFL quarterbacks. We develop great comedic talent.”


To complement the Comedic Arts curriculum, the College has partnered with renowned LA–based improv group the Upright Citizens Brigade to offer classes and expertise through Emerson’s Los Angeles facility. Students will also have opportunities to attend professional development seminars and performance–based comedy events, connect with professionals in the field.

Comedy performers

A student improv comedy troupe performs at Emerson.

Students will also engage with Emerson’s American Comedy Archives—a curated collection of comedy-related memorabilia and recordings started by distinguished comedian Bill Dana, a 1950 graduate of Emerson College, which includes more than 60 interviews with groundbreaking individuals in the field of comedy that spans from 1936 to the present day.

“Comedy is more relevant than ever,” said Martie Cook, professor and associate chair of Visual and Media Arts at Emerson and the creator of the Comedic Arts major.  “For Millennials and Generation Z, it’s a second language for expressing and reflecting the world as they understand it. We're thrilled to meet the next generation’s growing demand for all things comedy with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree curriculum that inspires students to explore comedy in and out of the classroom and prepares them through concentrated studies and professional experiences for careers in the field.”


Emerson’s approach to the study of comedic arts crosses multiple disciplines and integrates historical and modern comedic methods. The new Comedic Arts degree will include a strong foundation in the liberal arts and a combination of courses from the three departments within Emerson’s School of the Arts: Visual and Media Arts; Performing Arts; and Writing, Literature and Publishing. Courses will focus on the history, theory, and applications of comedy, and will include opportunities to explore diverse global perspectives of comedy.

Key classes in the new major include Elements of Sitcom Production, Modes of Comedy Production, Theories of Humor and Laughter, Comedy Writing for Late Night, The Comedy Writers’ Room, Performing Sketch Comedy, Acting and Directing Sketch Comedy, and Comedy Editing and Post-Production. Students will also have an opportunity to pursue a variety of capstone projects in Comedy Production, Writing, Performance (i.e., collaborating on a short film or sitcom production) and/or participate in a directed study or project in comedy, working with a faculty member on a production, writing, or performance project that extends beyond the existing courses.

During the past few years, the College has stayed closely connected with the marked rise of comedy’s impact on American culture and its global influence—offering more courses focused on comedy; hiring additional faculty with expertise in the field; supporting the 10 student-run comedy troupes; and last year, launching a Comedy minor.

For more information on the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Comedic Arts major, visit the Comedic Arts website or contact Professor Martie Cook, Comedic Arts director, at or 617-824-8243.

Several faculty and staff were instrumental in putting together the new major, including Cook, Tom Kingdon, Ken Feil, Maureen Shea, Magda Romanska, Michael Bent, Richard Hoffman, Hassan Ildari, and Adam Greenfield.

Comedy Alumni

In addition to the above mentioned Emerson alumni who excelled in comedy, others include: comedian and actor Bill Burr '93; comedian, actor, and writer Mario Cantone ’82 (Sex and the City); writers Eric Drysdale ‘93 and Opus Moreschi ’99 (The Colbert Report); executive producers Eric Falconer ’01 and Chris Romano ’00 (How I Met Your Mother, Blue Mountain State); writer John Frink ’82 (The Simpsons); writer Noah Garfinkel ’06 (New Girl, Workaholics); comedian and writer Laura Kightlinger ’86 (Roseanne, Will & Grace);  comedian and writer Quinn Marcus ’13 (Girl Code, Quinnterviews); actress and comedian Andrea Martin ’69 (SCTV, Pippin); executive producer Max Mutchnick ’87 (Will & Grace); comedian and writer Joe Randazzo ’02 (The Onion); writer Jon Rineman ’05 (The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon); and comedian and writer Steven Wright ’78.

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