Profile: Ryan Vaughn, adjunct professor
“Comedy is more than just punch lines. There’s a cultural significance to it.”
“Comedians are the philosophers of our time,” says Ryan Vaughan, a faculty member in Binghamton University’s English, General Literature and Rhetoric Department.
“They’re not just making jokes. Comedy is more than just punch lines. There’s a cultural significance to it.”
Vaughan’s classes specialize in writing humor and analyzing how humor is used in popular culture to address bigger issues, such as racism and inequality. He tells his students to think like artists and develop opinions, then write humor with a purpose.
“You can’t go into humor thinking, ‘Oh, what if I offend this person or what if this person doesn’t like it,’” he says. “As soon as you start to compromise yourself that way, your message or your art begins to be watered down. So you’ve basically written an episode of Full House. I try to teach students to have something to their comedy. Don’t just make dick jokes. Make socially conscious dick jokes.”
Of all forms of comedy, Vaughan says standup is the most pure. In fact, he thinks it’s the purest form of art because it’s a combination of writing, acting, performance art and improvisation.
“It’s one person, unfiltered, and the audience is right there, reacting as you’re doing it.
“It’s so immediate and intimate,” he says. “You have to be intelligent and quick in your mind.”
But being smart and funny might not be enough for a career in comedy, he says. Gone are the days when a person could have a good set and wind up on The Tonight Show. Today’s comic needs to constantly write, know how to act, generate ideas for television shows and movies, maintain websites and produce videos, all while traveling the world and performing.
“I applaud anybody out there grinding it out like that,” Vaughan says. “If you’re going for it, that has to be your job. You have to be writing all day and beating the street all night to get a gig, or you won’t get anywhere.”