This NYT article discusses the increase in popularity of comedy shows and of comedians. Currently, the leading channel for all things comic is Comedy Central, which turned 20 years-old April 1, 2011, and is still gaining momentum.
“The late-night tag team of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert makes news almost every week, the creators of “South Park” are cracking up Broadway and the channel’s newest star, Daniel Tosh, is drawing more than four million viewers some nights.”
We love to laugh, and it’s great when everyone understands the jokes, and can laugh together, but how do we explain “the jokes” to L2 learners? Translating comedy from one language to another isn’t the easiest task. As a matter of fact, it can be downright stressful for some teachers and learners. We are faced not only with language barriers, but in many cases cultural barriers prevent learners from understanding as well.”
There are different ways to teach using comedy as the topic. One way is by using visuals such as video clips. Here is a Focused Listening activity using a video clip from Stephen Colbert’s show. Click on the name (Placebo) to view video. Answers are below.
Level: High Intermediate-Advanced
Time: 45 minutes
I. Pre-listening Tasks
1. Before watching the video ask the following questions and write the responses on the board.
- What are your favorite comedy shows? (they may be in this country or theirs)
- Who are your favorite comedians?
- What type of comedy do they perform? (for example, is it funny physical scenarios, or verbal jokes)
2. Provide students with background information about the video topic.
3. Find out if students recognize the following people mentioned in the video:
George W. Bush
4. Review vocabulary from the video.
Place students in groups, see if they can guess the meanings of the bolded words.
- As Colbert talks, there are messages displayed in a side bar screen which juxtaposes Colbert’s commentary…
- Which brings us to tonight’s word, Placebo.
- …you have to take out a mortgage from the bank…
- There’s a lot of debate about what’s causing this crisis…
- …a lot of our problems today as you know are psychological…
- You see Bush readily concedes that it’s not going to help out here…
- Think of a pot dealer on a street corner…
- …the hairiest, most chronic bug this side of the Himalayas!
- …there are no unpleasant side-effects…
While-Listening Tasks (Focused Listening)
After students have listened to the video once, play it again, and this time have them fill in following questions:
1. Nation, oil’s at nearly ___a barrel.
2. Only two years ago oil was at____ a barrel.
3. Clearly ___needs psychological help.
4. Which brings us to tonight’s word___
5. Patients who’ve taken the sugar pill get___
6. Here’s what the president had to say about their plans to expand___.
7. ...my only problem would be that they’re telling us their plans___.
Have groups write their own comedy skits, and perform them for the class.
Have members make a list of questions they would like to ask Mr. Colbert, or another comedian.
Have students translate jokes or funny stories from their countries, and share them with the class.
1. The topic is the problem of rising gas prices in the U.S., and the reasons for the crisis.
2. Stephen Colbert is an American political satirist, writer, and comedienne. He is the host of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, a satirical news show on which Colbert portrays a political scholar. The show is extremely popular in the U.S. “The Word” is a segment in the show during which Colbert chooses a particular word or phrase from a current news topic to discuss. A specialty of this segment is that as Colbert talks, there are messages displayed on a side bar screen which juxtaposes Colbert’s commentary with satirical bullet points on-screen, that responds usually in a sarcastic manner to what Colbert is saying. It’s as though The Word has a life of its own.
Tommy Chong is a Canadian-American comedian, actor and musician who is most widely known for his acting in the marijuana-themed comedy movies with his partner Cheech.
John McCain is the senior United States senator representing Arizona.
George W. Bush served as the 43rd President of the United States.
- juxtaposes verb. place or deal with close together for contrasting effect : black-and-white photos of slums were starkly juxtaposed with color images.
- Placebo noun. an innocuous or inert medication; given as a pacifier or to the control group in experiments on the efficacy of a drug
- mortgage noun. a conditional conveyance of property as security for the repayment of a loan.
- debate verb. discuss the pros and cons of an issue
- psychological adjective. affecting, or arising in the mind; related to the mental and emotional state of a person.
- concedes verb. to admit to something.
- pot dealer noun. person who sells marijuana to other people.
- chronic adjective. being long-lasting and recurrent or characterized by long suffering.
- side-effects noun. a secondary, typically undesirable effect of a drug or medical.
won’t actually do anything.
Please come back again.