BINGHAMTON RESEARCHERS, SCHOLARS & ARTISTS SPOTLIGHT
Meet a Faculty Mentor
Adjunct Professor of English
Ryan Vaughan is unarguably one of the most popular professors on campus. Many might say he is the most popular. Despite having an average of 500 students each semester, he continues to mentor individuals who are pursuing careers in comedy. How does 'research' and 'comedy' work together? According to him, "All my research is for the classroom. I aim to make social issues that usually fall in the realm of academia more accessible to a wide-variety of students."
Professor Vaughan received his PhD from Binghamton University in 2006 in English Literature and Creative Writing. His dissertation covered humor and media studies, especially television. "I am taking a stand for marginalized topics such as humor in television. People think it's silly and sophomoric. But humor is important; new media is important. Pulling back the curtains and saying that 'this is what the media can offer' will help us expand various ideas in our culture."
His humor and media related courses always fill up quickly, and taking a class with him is something every Binghamton student hopes to accomplish before graduation. Professor Vaughan is unique in that he attempts to know the name and face of every one of his students. He learns their names by taking a picture of each student on the first day of class. Vaughan feels that this process renders him more approachable. College students, especially, appreciate being more than a number on a class roster. More importantly, they want to learn about different issues in our society today, and humor makes it more accessible to them.
"The students aren't scholars by trade. Humor gives them access to learning about sensitive topics such as race." Ryan also provides opportunities for his students through Teaching Assitantships and assists them with their writing. "Most students who want to get into comedy hear I'm the 'comedy guy' and come to me for advice. I never turn anyone down." One such student, Michael Amory, a senior triple-majoring in English, Psychology, and PPL, and one of the founders of the Binghamton Standup Comedy Club, served as a TA for Professor Vaughan's Gaming as Literature course. "He [Amory] researched several video games not covered in the syllabus in order to place them in contexts that allowed the class to understand the different concepts in gaming."
Professor Vaughan advises those interested in writing comedy or writing in general: "Anything I suggest is merely suggestion. Writing is about being honest with yourself. You need to be secure and honest enough to follow a suggestion and be truthful about whether it will make your piece better." Students also seek him out wanting to learn how to make their material funnier. "Of course you can't teach a person to be funny. But I do hear the jokes and make a few suggestions."
Whether it's about writing or comedy, Vaughan is always willing to help his students achieve their ambitions. "I try to give the students the freedom and opportunity to express their ideas. Most of them don't feel like they can. But they should be open to criticism. It's up to them to try something and come out on the other side, truthfully."
....and his Student Mentee
Senior English, Psychology & PPL Major
Michael Amory has been interested in following a career in comedy since he started college at Fordham University. Comedy was initially an outlet for him. The possibility of a career did not formulate until he met Ryan Vaughan after transferring to Binghamton University. "I was very lucky to get into his Humorous Writing course during for the first semester of my sophomore year."
Since then, Professor Vaughan has provided Michael with several media-related experiences. As a Teaching Assistant for Gaming as Literature, Michael was able to research video games and write papers that gave a unique angle to these games. These exercises helped the budding comedian become a better writer. Outside of academics, Michael assists Professor Vaughan with his TV show. Vaughan often provides him with advice on putting on his own standup shows. Michael says of Professor Vaughan: "He is a great mentor. I can bounce ideas off him, and he helps me figure things out. There is no ideal model for a college student wanting to get into comedy. But Ryan (Professor Vaughan) fits the mold perfectly."
In addition to pursuing a triple-major in English, Psychology, and PPL, Michael had the time and energy to start the Binghamton Standup Comedy Club. College clubs such as this one are rare; most comedians usually start out by doing improv work, so college-stage standup organizations are few and far between. Since its inception two years ago, the club has grown from 3 members to 15. Michael says of Comedy Club: "I was able to meet other likeminded people. We wanted to push each other to do better. But we were still able to have a blast at the same time."
Humor is a vehicle through which Michael can address and interpret socially sensitive topics such as sex and gender. He uses a similar approach to Professor Vaughan in that he sheds light on such subjects via standup comedy. "I learned a lot about feminism after coming here. I was able to see how the media and men often approach women in a way that isn't obviously sexist, but still harmful."
Looking forward to his future, Michael knows he has a long way to go. "Something important I learned from Ryan (Professor Vaughan) is to take risks. He gives a lot support for a career that most people don't understand. He's taught me: if you have a passion for comedy or for anything else, you have to try it and see where it goes."
Articles written by: Tasfia Rahman '14