We've got you covered

The Columbia Chronicle

We've got you covered

The Columbia Chronicle

We've got you covered

The Columbia Chronicle

Get exclusive Chronicle news delivered to your inbox!
* indicates required

Columbia, Second City continue Comedy Studies summer semester ‘abroad’ program

Kaelah Serrano
Norm Holly, a Columbia faculty member of Comedy Studies and Comedy Studies instructor at The Second City, stands outside of the theater at 230 W North Ave., on Friday, June 21, 2024. The Second City is popularly known in Chicago for its stand-up and storytelling performances.

Aidy Bryant, Gary Richardson, Molly Kearny, and most recently, Asha Ward, a Columbia Chicago Alumni.

What do these comedians have in common?

Besides having worked for Saturday Night Live, they are all alumni of Comedy Studies, a course made available through both Columbia Chicago and The Second City.

Columbia offers the 12-credit hour Comedy Studies summer program, developed and taught by experts at The Second City in Chicago.

The summer semester is open to non-Columbia students with at least 60 undergraduate credit hours or recent college graduates who are interested in studying comedy.

Comedy Studies’ summer semester is currently in session with 12 students enrolled in the six-week course that began June 10.

Students attend three classes daily at The Second City located at 230 W North Ave., with specialized workshops on Fridays. Classes include improv, comedy writing, movement and the history of comedy.

Individuals are able to apply and create a login with the Columbia Connect portal. Each applicant must complete an online application which includes a theatrical resume, letter of recommendation, three short essays and are required to pay an application fee of $25. Columbia admissions then process applications for the program, take in tuition, and hire, pay and schedule faculty.

Students also pay $735 per credit hour with a total of $8,820 in tuition per the entire Comedy Studies summer semester. During their summer semester, Comedy Studies students are eligible for Columbia services such as UPass and mental health support.

What faculty are saying:

Anne Libera, associate professor of Comedy Writing and Performance Director of Comedy Studies at both Columbia Chicago and Second City understands the comedic and career value of Comedy Studies.

“Roughly, I would say a third of the people currently in the talent pool at Second City, in our foreign companies and resident companies, did come to Comedy Studies at one point or another,” Libera said. “So it seems to do something.”

The comedy studies course is required of comedy majors at Columbia but the summer program is a condensed version. The program allows “students from all over the country and the world who are interested in comedy [to take the course] like a semester abroad,” Libera said.

The origins of the course can be traced back to Sheldon Patinkin, a founder of The Second City in 1959. Patinkin was also a chairman of Columbia’s Theatre Department and worked at Columbia for 29 years.

Patinkin, who met Libera while working at The Second City, recommended her to start teaching at Columbia. Libera said she “had a conversation with Sheldon about this idea of creating a semester abroad program,” which would come to be Comedy Studies.

Since then, the Comedy Studies curriculum has been reshaped over the years by Libera, Mary Scruggs, who was the head of The Second City’s writing program, and Norm Holly, who was artistic director of the training center for 25 years.

“We created an enormous facility here and kept expanding, expanding until it became the institution that it is now,” Holly said.

Holly teaches the “Creating Scenes through Improvisation” class in the Comedy Studies summer program and is also a Columbia faculty member. “The summer program is different. The same process just condensed,” Holly said.

Comedy Studies focuses on comedy cross-training, a format that incorporates multiple disciplines, from writing and editing to directing and performing. Each individual class within the program is meant to teach specific skills in order to create well rounded and informed performers, Holly said.

Libera also currently teaches “History and Analysis of Modern American Comedy” within Comedy Studies. “There’s something about studying [comedy] in a bunch of different ways that allows [students] to start to take risks and start to make discoveries,” Libera said. “They’re able to make connections in a way that you don’t make if you study these things sequentially.”

What the Comedy Studies students are saying:

With the Comedy Studies summer program being open to students outside of Columbia, all 12 students are from different colleges, both in and out of the state.

Some students discovered the program online or through referrals from Comedy Studies alumni and family members.

Vivian Poe, a sophomore acting major at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, first came across the program online.

“I was just looking at random opportunities and I came across this one,” Poe said. “And I saw on the website that Aidy Bryant was an alum of this program and I was so impressed by that.”

Maddie Athearn, a senior musical theater major at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, first heard about the program while she was a freshman.

A friend who attended the Comedy Studies summer semester shared her positive summer experience with Athearn.

While she was nervous about performing the first day in front of everyone, her class experience since then has promoted comedic creativity and connection among her classmates. “I also think the size of the class being so small is really special,” Athearn said. “And I don’t really think there’s anything else like this out there.”

Now Comedy Studies students are entering their fourth week into the program and many notice a difference in their performance ability.

Anna Jones, a senior anthropology major at the University of Kansas said that improv especially has helped her improve her writing skills.

“I’m gaining a lot of confidence too, and I know I’m gonna bring a lot of this information back to my sketch writing back at KU and so I’m excited to do that,” Jones said.

Students also appreciate the organization of the course and the collaborative environment.

“I think that having that open feedback is really, really helpful and there’s really an added layer of trust because people care so much,” Poe said in reference to her comedy writing class.

The course has also inspired others to advocate for the value of comedy lessons at their own colleges.

“I’m kind of writing everything down. Every prompt that Norm gives us. Every piece of advice,” Athearn said. “Hopefully when I go back to school, I can start something there where people see the value of that.”

While there are various opportunities to learn, create and laugh in Comedy Studies, Holly said he wants students to walk away with confidence in their creative ability.

“If you have an inclination to do something creative, please do it. The world needs you. But also, if you’re a great brain surgeon do that too,” Holly said.

The Comedy Studies summer program is scheduled to hold its final student showcase on Saturday, July 20. The showcase will be free and open to the public at The Second City, with tickets available to be registered online.

Copy edited by Doreen Abril Albuerne-Rodriguez

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Kaelah Serrano
Kaelah Serrano, Photojournalist
kserrano@columbiachronicle.com   Kaelah Serrano is a junior photojournalism major. She has covered music festivals, campus art exhibitions and metro parades and protests. Serrano joined the Chronicle in January 2023.   Hometown: Chicago, Illinois