Monday, November 3, 2014

Culture Corner: Chris Rock and How to Write a Paper

This past Saturday Chris Rock made some waves with his Saturday Night Live monologue that included jokes about the Boston bombing and 9/11. While his stand-up routine proved to be controversial, I couldn't help but notice that watching a Chris Rock stand-up bit is pretty much a masterclass in writing an academic paper.

I think for some of the students who struggle with writing academic papers in school do so because they have difficulty actually conceptualizing exactly what is needed from them. Honestly, when I returned to school after a lengthy absence I often felt that I was groping in the dark, and if I have enjoyed any success in my current academic career, I have my brief career as a stand-up comedian to thank for that. In many ways writing a joke or a stand-up bit utilizes the same muscles that writing an academic paper use. Take Chris Rock's bit about the Boston bombing in the below clip:

At the 1:08 mark, Rock lays out his premise for the joke, or, his thesis statement, "That was probably the most frightening, sadistic, terrorist attack ever." The crowd laughs uncomfortably. Rock has made an observation about something and has set forth his statement about it. Now he has to prove it.

He begins by looking at the distance that marathon runners have to run; twenty-six miles. He gives this distance the proper context in order to persuade the viewer, "twenty-six miles is a long drive."The crowd laughs approvingly. He then follows up this observation with an example; stating that if one were to call a friend for a ride and informed the friend that he is twenty-six miles away, the friend would advise, "you better get Uber." The crowd laughs raucously.

Rock then goes on to describe the physical toll that a twenty-six mile run takes on the human body, "your knees are hurting, their feet are killin' 'em, if you're a woman, blood is coming out of your titties!"

As he closes in on his argument, Rock further explains the time the runner has devoted to training for this race and in his closing argument, illustrates exactly why the Boston bombing is the "most frightening, sadistic terrorist attack ever," because after the heroic display of fortitude and strenuous physical exertion demanded to run in a marathon, "at the end of the finish line, and somebody screams, 'Run!'"

Stand-up comedy and academic writing is similar in that it involves making observations and connections, making a statement about that connection, and then proving it through a series of examples. While the reading of an academic paper can prove to be extremely intimidating for students, I think that most everyone has been exposed to stand-up comedy. The principles are the same, and while there are some who might argue that academic writing requires a more rigorous examination of proofs, try doing comedy for a handful of drunk people on Saturday Night. For comedy to work, it has to be airtight as audiences are not easily satiated with flimsy arguments. 

So, the next time you are stuck on a paper instead of hitting up the articles database on the Brooklyn College Library website, just watch some Chris Rock videos on YouTube.

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