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Meet the Teaching Artist: Introduction to Humor Writing with Chas Gillespie

by Writing Workshops Staff

11 months ago


Meet the Teaching Artist: Introduction to Humor Writing with Chas Gillespie

by Writing Workshops Staff

11 months ago


Meet Chas Gillespie, a multi-talented writer, comedian, and teacher, who is bringing his expertise to a new Introduction to Humor Writing 5-Week Zoom Workshop. With his work featured in The New Yorker, The Onion, and McSweeney's, Chas is no stranger to the world of comedy writing.

Holding a degree in English Literature from Harvard College and an MFA in Fiction from Warren Wilson College, he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to his classes.

Chas' workshop focuses on helping aspiring writers generate funny prose, with an emphasis on short-form online humor. From mastering comedic principles like exaggeration and escalation to transforming topics into engaging premises, Chas covers all the essential techniques. He also offers valuable insights into revising and punching up drafts, ensuring students develop polished, publication-ready humor pieces.

Regardless of their level of experience, Chas welcomes both experienced and beginning writers to join his class, promising a writing-intensive experience with a strong emphasis on reading short pieces together. By the end of the workshop, participants can expect to have a publication-ready humor piece and a solid plan for future comedic writing endeavors.

Hi, Chas. Please introduce yourself to our audience.

I'm a comedy writer who's published work in The New Yorker, The Onion, and McSweeney's, where I contribute regularly. I also have an MFA in Creative Writing and am working on a novel, so my interests range from short-form humor to longer and more sustained narratives.

What made you want to teach this specific class? Is it something you are focusing on in your own writing practice? Have you noticed a need to focus on this element of craft?

I also work as an editor, and sometimes writers will send me short-form humor of the sort you find in McSweeney's or Shouts & Murmurs. I started seeing writers making some of the same mistakes, and I realized that I myself made some of these mistakes when I was closer to the beginning of my writing career. (I still contend with some of them, honestly.) I decided it would make more sense to share information and tricks about how to approach comedy writing in classes rather than in 1-on-1 exchanges. I think what I teach are things writers can figure out mostly on their own, but the benefit of a class is that you can learn in 5 weeks what might otherwise take a year or two.

Give us a breakdown of how the course is going to go. What can the students expect? What is your favorite part about this class you've dreamed up?

The first two weeks of class are a mixture of lecture, reading, analysis, and discussion. We look at funny prose, talk about what makes it work, and talk about how to apply these lessons to our own work. We also try a few writing exercises that are designed to challenge students' common ways of doing things and provide alternatives that might lead to deeper and more interesting work. The last three weeks continue these lessons, but they are weighed more heavily toward writing and workshopping pieces. The class involves a significant amount of writing.

What was your first literary crush?

Thoreau???

What are you currently reading?

I'm reading 'Losing It' by Emma Rathbone and 'The New Me' by Halle Butler, both comic novels that are complicated by feelings of desperation and failure.

How do you choose what you're working on? When do you know it is the next thing you want to write all the way to THE END?

It's not always easy, right? There's something to be said for setting a piece aside for months at a time so that your subconscious can plod along on it and, when you come back to it, you might be able to reinvigorate it with something interesting. There's also something to be said for sitting down and grinding so that a piece is just done and you don't have to think about it anymore. I think I just try to be honest with myself and think, "Am I avoiding writing this thing because I'm lazy or afraid? Or am I avoiding completing this thing because it needs something more and I don't yet know what it is?" If the answer to the first question is yes, it's time to face it and finish it. If the answer to the second question is yes, it's time to take my foot off the gas and go easy on myself.

Where do you find inspiration?

Novels and movies on the one hand, and my own life on the other hand. I love reading something that makes me feel like I have permission to do something I've always been afraid of doing. When I think about my own life, I think the practice is always to try to be more and more honest with myself about what I truly care about, what I actually know, where my confusion lies, and what I value.

What is the best piece of writing wisdom you've received that you can pass along to our readers? How did it impact your work? Why has this advice stuck with you?

I think it's important to put yourself in a position where you get to hear what other people think of your writing and where it might be falling short. Creating a habit or a practice where you're sitting down for however many hours per week to write is important, as is submitting work to possibly be published, but really the greatest improvement happens when you're submitting writing to someone, or a few people, who take the work seriously, are great readers, and can give you honest feedback of how they experience the work. If you don't do this, you can end up making the same mistakes over and over again, and you might have trouble getting a sense of where your talents lie.

What is your favorite book to recommend on the craft of writing? Why this book?

I'm going to recommend Charles Baxter's craft books. His latest is "Wonderlands." One of the most important skills you develop as a writer is learning how to read like a writer. I think that's what his books demonstrate.

Bonus question: What’s your teaching vibe?

It's a balance between being relaxed, positive, and rigorous.

Learn More About Working with Chas:

You can learn more about Chas' upcoming class, Introduction to Humor Writing, and sign up now!

Instructor Chas Gillespie is a writer, comedian, and teacher whose work appears in The New Yorker, The Onion, and McSweeney’s, where he contributes regularly. He is a graduate of Harvard College, where he studied English Literature, and Warren Wilson College, where he received his MFA in Fiction. You can find his work on his website, chaschaschas.com. He is currently at work on a novel.

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