Sign up for laughter lessons at the British Library

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Comedy is a serious matter and, as if to underline how much the art form has developed, later this month it will be the subject of a conference, at London's British Library, featuring comedians alongside a host of academics.

The laughter lessons planned include a session on "How Do Jokes Work?", where getting to the heart of the matter will be Barry Cryer, Tim Vine, and CP Lee – historian and senior lecturer at Salford University. Lee, who specialises in regional comedy, claims that such events "reflect a groundswell of international interest from academics exploring issues such as identity, gender and taste."

Meanwhile, fellow academic Chris Ritchie, the creator of the comedy degree at Southampton Solent University, will chair a debate on that ever-hot potato – how far should comedy go. He will be joined by producer Bill Dare (Spitting Image), comedians Richard Herring and Shazia Mirza and critics Kate Copstick and Steve Bennett.

Bennett, founder of the comedy website Chortle, will tell the conference that he believes that no subject matter should be off limits: "Those who take knee-jerk offence at things the newspapers tell them to be offended by should probably wake up to more serious problems with the world," he says.

Herring offers his view, too: "Although comedy gives a licence to say things you wouldn't say in normal life, that does not mean there are no boundaries. It's useful to discuss what these boundaries might be in an intelligent and unhysterical manner."

17 and 18 January (