Chalk Talk: Don't laugh - Brunel University's new centre for comedy is a rather serious business


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The Independent Online

And now for something completely different. Brunel University has just officially launched the first Centre for Comedy Studies in the UK's higher education system.

It's dedicated to carrying out academic study on the "comedy/society interface" and examining how humour and stand-up can be used in both a serious and an "unserious" way. It will also look at how they can be used positively and negatively.

By all accounts, the launch turned out be quite a serious affair, too, with comedian Jo Brand defending her fellow comic Lee Mack for stirring up controversy with his comments on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs suggesting that women were not cut out for comedy.

Brand said the resulting "backlash" was "unfair" before adding: "Lots of women refuse to go on panel shows because they think they're going to get a pasting... It's not a gender thing but a personality thing."

Mack revealed that his views were based on an undergraduate dissertation he had done at Brunel University in the mid 1990s – on female comedians. "I was quoting a professor from my thesis who had said that women are less competitive and tend to listen more," he said. "Men are more likely to show off." He stressed: "Once they start, women are absolutely equal to men." Interesting idea, then, to open a comedy centre – but it doesn't half sound like a deadly serious business.

Consternation in university circles as political pundits described Labour MP Liam Byrne's move from shadow Work and Pensions Secretary to higher education as a "demotion". Vice-chancellors declared: "Not a bit of it."

However, some commentators described the move as evidence of just how important Labour felt the subject would be in the next election campaign, ie not very! We shall see.