Things are funny when they resonate with our values, and values are connected to culture. So what’s funny is drastically different from culture to culture. Or is it? We go deeper insight when Jessica Mitolo joined Intercultural Spark on October 7. As a faculty member at The Second City Training Center, Jessica teaches improvisation and comedy writing to students of all ages and skill levels and recently returned from teaching Second City’s training programs in Jordan, Romania, and China. Independent of Second City, Jessica has trained comedians in over 10 different countries including Lebanon, Bratislava, Krakow, Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Czech Republic.
(See the replay, embedded at the bottom of this page)
Originally from Youngstown, Ohio, Jessica Mitolo is currently a Chicago-based director and teaching artist. In addition to teaching around the globe, for over five years Jessica worked as a Lead Teaching Artist in Open Book’s ReadThenWrite Residency Program where she traveled throughout Chicago, teaching reading comprehension and creative writing to students in underserved communities. She leads corporate improv and idea generating workshops for corporations and has directed more than 40 stage productions for various theater companies.
Key Insights from What’s So Funny?
- When teaching comedy in another country, if everyone in the room is laughing, it’s funny. You don’t have to understand it to know it’s funny.
- If students don’t understand, check your assumptions. Jess found that was usually the case. If she glossed over a detail because she assumed everyone knew it, it always came back to her if the group didn’t understand.
- Jerry was impressed that for Jess, comedy was primarily about being funny. He saw that she used comedy the way he used creativity–something that could drive meaning and connect people. And he wants to set up an improv program for grandparents.
- Brianna asked how comedy has changed over the years. On a positive note, Jess says it’s not as mean. It’s not okay to make jokes at the expense people who are powerless. It was never nice, but audiences don’t like it now. (It’s always safe to start with self-deprication.
- Deanna loved that she made something amazing happen (rather than waiting for opportunity to come to her). Jess was going to be teaching a one week improv class in Jordan with The Second City. That would preclude her from teaching her regular 8 week class in Chicago. So Jess created this amazing opportunity for herself. She had applied and was accepted to the competitive 2018 Directors Lab with The Lincoln Center, and had met people leading improv companies from around the world. “How would like me to come and teach teach there?” she offered. On her own she created this amazing opportunity that also touched dozens of comedians around the world.
- Jess gave us permission to laugh. In fact she said it’s critical to stay sane. She also said that sometimes humor is they way to convey the complexities of conflict. For example, when she partnered with a Palestinian artist to direct a play for Silk Road Rising theater company, about arranged marriages…”that was hilarious!” said Jess
- Jabari said “Great convo! Really enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing!