Comedy – Satire
Students learn to devise performances that are of a satirical nature, with the possibility of highlighting social inequity.
They begin to understand that, if used correctly, comedy can go beyond a means of just entertainment and can be used to highlight social inequity. Students experiment with exaggeration, role-reversal and caricature both practically and experientially to understand how these techniques can be used in a performance to create comedy.
- 4.1.2 improvises and playbuilds through group-devised processes.
- 4.1.3 devises and enacts drama using scripted and unscripted material.
- 4.2.3 explores and uses aspects of dramatic forms, performance styles, theatrical conventions and technologies to create dramatic meaning.
- 4.3.2 recognises the function of drama and theatre in reflecting social and cultural aspects of human experience.
- 5.1.2 contributes, selects, develops and structures ideas in improvisation and playbuilding.
- 5.1.3 devises, interprets and enacts drama using scripted and unscripted material or text.
- 5.2.3 employs a variety of dramatic forms, performance styles, dramatic techniques, theatrical conventions and technologies to create dramatic meaning.
- 5.3.2 analyses the contemporary and historical contexts of drama.
How can comedy be used as a vehicle to insight social change or highlight social inequity?
Satire is traditionally a form of comedy, but can often be found in political theatre as a vehicle for social commentary on current social, historical or political events. Essentially it means to 'send-up'. Satire will often mock an individual, group of people or, more broadly, an institution. Satire uses a range of techniques to create humour and dramatic meaning, including:
- Exaggeration - Representing something (action, voice, slogan) beyond normal boundaries so that it becomes larger allowing for faults to be seen (e.g. a caricature).
- Reversal - To swap the roles of a situation and present them out of the usual order (e.g. male versus female gender roles).
- Parody - to imitate the techniques, actions and language of a person, place, or thing.
Satirical comedy is made even more powerful when the topics are well known to the audience. Often the more relevant or famous the person, event or institution is, the funnier the satire will be for the audience as it feels more relevant to their lived experience. However, if done without care or thought, satire can be deemed as offensive or insulting, consequently care must be taken to ensure the dramatic meaning is clear and consistent.
While satire can often feel contemporary, it is important to note that its origins were in ancient Greek satyr plays and some of the works of Shakespeare. More recently, it was used by German theatre practitioner Bertolt Brecht who used theatre to highlight aspects of the government in 1930's Germany. Presently, satire is all around us in contemporary culture with almost every facet of the media employing it, including: newspapers, magazines, theatre, arts, television, radio and film. It is a way of engaging audiences and an opportunity to provide a social commentary on social, political or cultural events in a comic or humorous means.
Embedded elements of drama
- role and character
- dramatic meaning
- audience engagement.
All activities require students to demonstrate their learning and are all formative assessment activities.
Teaching and learning activities
The following learning experiences are structured to provide students with a practical and theoretical understanding of how to structure a script.
- Students create a list of what they did yesterday after school. The list does not need to be detailed, but more a short recount of events in dot-point form. For example, watched television, rode bicycle, went to the shops, are all good examples for this task.
- Discuss the similarities and differences between the student activities.
- As a class create a second list of the students’ favourite moments in comedy and satire shows, movies or online that are based on everyday activities. As you brainstorm, also write down what makes these moments effective and appropriate comedy and/or satire. Your discussion could include:
- What is exaggerated, reversed or parodied?
- What message should you take away from this comedy or satire? Do you think the comedy or satire is successful in communicating this message?
- Who is the target of the satire or comedy? Is it fair to target them? Note: often effective satire targets people in positions of power and authority.
- Compare the list of everyday activities with your favourite moments. Which everyday activities could you turn into comedy or satire using the same elements of drama?
- Respond to the following in student logbooks:
- What elements of satire can you identify from all the examples (including from the class) you’ve looked at today?
- What social commentary was being made in the performance piece you developed? Do you think you were successful in communicating this commentary? Why?
- read the information provided and write a definition of 'Caricature'
- access YouTube and as a class, watch window thoughts with President Trump. Discuss and reflect on the performance in student logbooks. Suggested discussion topics are:
- exaggerated movement and voice
- celebrity status
- use of slogans.
- select and watch another celebrity interview on YouTube for their choice. In their logbooks makes notes about:
- their movement (gestures, idiosyncrasies, etc.)
- their voice (pitch, tone, tempo, accent)
- their language (what words do they use frequently).
- playbuild and perform a short satirical skit characterizing their chosen celebrity interview. Students will then evaluate how they caricatured their characters by discussing the skills/techniques used in their performance, in their logbooks.
Ask students to think about common stereotypes that exist regarding male and female gender roles.
- identify roles that are commonly associated with males and roles that are commonly associated with females
- playbuild a group performance that uses role-reversal to create humour and make a social commentary on the issue of gender roles and stereotypes. Perform for the class.
- write a long response answer to a question about the topic in their logbooks. For example:
- comedy is all about the context. Discuss this with reference to your study of satire.
Encourage students to use workshop and performance examples as evidence in written responses.
- improvise an extended scene in character through a game such as hot seat.
- playbuild a performance based on a two page written stimulus provided by the teacher converting it into the form of a satire.
- LS 1.1 explores characters, roles, situations and actions through drama activities
- LS 1.3 participates in drama experiences in which role-taking is used to enhance their understanding of ideas and feelings
- LS 3.2 identifies and responds to the elements of drama or theatre in performances
- LS 3.3 recognises that drama and theatre performances can communicate meaning and ideas.
- identify what makes them laugh about the everyday situations explored in class activities and performance
- instead of referring to a celebrity, get students to think about how a particular friend or family member behaves. Discuss the stances and voices of these characters and play them with exaggeration
- create tableaux (performed frozen images) of stereotyped gender situations and then adjust the gender of key characters
- discuss verbally or in dot-point how other students created comedy in their performances.
Feedback is formative during the lessons.
This sequence and accompanying worksheets are available as word documents below.
Syllabus outcomes and content descriptors from Drama 7–10 Syllabus (2003) © NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for and on behalf of the Crown in right of the State of New South Wales, 2017.