The USC School of Cinematic Arts is launching the “Comedy@SCA” initiative that will attempt to establish USC as a pioneer in the field of comedy.
Through new courses and concentrations, students will be able to specialize in writing, directing, editing, shooting and producing comedy.
The School of Cinematic Arts said it will be the first university in the country to offer a comedy program of this calibre.
“There is not, that we know of, in an academic intuition, in the world, that teaches comedy at the level that we are talking about,” said Barnet Kellman, a professor of Film and Television Production and Co-Director of Comedy@SCA Institute.
A comedy festival will jumpstart the initiative. Co-hosted by Comedy@SCA and Visions and Voices, the festival will bring some of the best-known comedians, such as Steve Carell, to USC to lecture, discuss and preview some of their best work.
“I can easily say there has never been anything like this [comedy festival], maybe in Los Angeles history,” said Jack Epps Jr., associate professor and first endowed chair in comedy.
Kellman said schools have historically shied away from teaching comedy.
“[Comedy] has been considered the mystery subject,” Kellman said. “In other words there is prejudice, in almost a positive way toward comedy, which says you either can do it or you can’t. It is one of the few subjects where people throw up their hands and say you can’t really teach it.”
He said the School of Cinematic Arts strives to become a center for students aspiring to learn comedy.
“We are going to try to do it better,” Kellman said. “We are going to say that USC and the School of Cinematic Arts is the perfect place to test that proposition, and to become a center for young people who want to come and focus their talents toward the learning and the sharpening of their comedic skills.”
Students and faculty alike said this program can be an opportunity to put USC graduates ahead of everyone else.
“[Comedy] is really essential for all of us to know,” said Alex Convery, a sophomore majoring in screenwriting. “If you can learn to do each genre really well, then you’re set. To look into the specifics of comedy is a really smart thing to do as a school.”
Ultimately the initiative seeks to help students jobs secure in the comedy industry. Kellman said he would want producers and networks to look at USC for employees first.
“We want when those people, those producers and those networks who are thinking where is the new comedy talent, where do I look first, where are the ones that know how to direct … they think let’s look at those USC films,” Kellman said. “We want to become known for that.”
Other students agree that focusing on comedy is essential and is something they have not seen a lot of at USC thus far.
“Comedy is one of the things that I do,” said Matt Podobinski, a senior majoring in film and television production. “Sometimes in my classes when I try to do comedy it is not seen on the same level or seen as high art. I feel as if it is almost frowned upon.”
Podobinski said he is impressed that the School of Cinematic Arts is focusing more on comedy.
“Comedy isn’t easy to teach at all,” Podobinski said. “Of all the genres of film and television, comedy is the hardest because you are trying to get that result and trying to get that laugh. It is very result oriented. The fact that they are specializing in it is awesome because, as such a difficult genre to make films in, this is something that we can develop.”
The School of Cinematic Arts will introduce a new course in spring 2013 called Late Night Comedy that will be based on the format used by Saturday Night Live. Students will get to write, act and direct skits and get a feel for the many different aspects of comedy.
The plan is to add to the existing curriculum one course at a time, eventually creating a separate track for students who want to emphasize in comedy.
“We have a lot of comedy faculty here, but it was never really organized together,” Epps said. “We never really put it into a curriculum where people could start and study and come here to hone their comic voice and comic instincts.”
In its most basic form, the heart of the initiative is to provide instruction in areas where it was not previously available.
“’SC is the place where this can be done,” Kellman said. “Nobody else could do this, so we have to do it.”