On 10th September 2018, VICE released an article titled ‘An Introduction to the Most Useless University Degrees in Europe’ in which they branded the University of Kent’s postgraduate course in Stand-Up Comedy as a course ‘worth it if you want to spend 40 years not really making any money at all.’
The articles author, Nana Baah, also described the course as ‘perfect for people who believe that constantly talking about how funny they are, while saying literally nothing funny, is perfectly acceptable first date chat.’
Despite slandering the course, the article failed to gain reaction from the courses former co-ordinator Dr Oliver Double, who highlighted that the course had not been active since ‘around 2015.’ He explained further that VICE’s words had no impact on the state of the course and instead that the course was ‘killed by the government.’ The course had run successfully from between 2001 to 2015 as an ‘extended undergraduate master program.’
Originally the course was a 4 year course, with 3 years undergraduate and a final year in which students could ‘specialise’ in a selection of subjects, one of which was Stand-Up Comedy.
As Oliver Double described, it became ‘unsustainable when the fees went up to £9,000 a year.’
Despite their being, as Double noted, around ‘14 applications including two from overseas’ the course could not be maintained and so was ultimately cancelled.
Double ensured that the article had not affected the department or the course itself, and instead explained that the article did more damage to VICE. Double named the article ‘bad journalism’ due to its lack of research and saw it as ‘insulting’ to the students who undertook the course.
Double highlighted the articles narrow focus and illustration of people who ‘tale about how funny they are, whiles saying nothing funny’ and its expectation that the course would produce comedians. He argued that many former students had gone on to achieve successful careers in areas beyond simply comedy such as publishing and education.
He also argued that even within comedy, the course had produce many successful comedians such as Laura Lexx. Winning multiple awards such as the Comedians Choice Award in 2018 and being described as a ‘bouncing, bubbly stand-up star’ by the Guardian’s theatre critic Dominic Cavendish.
This list of successful talent was further expanded by Matt Hoss, a former student and current comedian who undertook the course before its cancellation. He pointed towards comedian group ‘The Noise Next Door’ who have been ‘Eleven time sell-out veterans of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival,’ as well as other groups such as ‘Three Half Pints’ who have shared similar success.
Matt Hoss also suggests that placing a label such as ‘useful’ upon a degree is ‘to deny what a university experience truly is.’ He shared his own experience as an example, explaining how the course had helped him.
‘The course taught me how to be a great performer. It doesn't tell you how to be funny, it makes your point humour accessible. Having the ability to speak in public, how to read body language, and how to read a room. I now teach workshops of public speaking at universities and to schools.’
He directly rejected the idea that the course is designing to make a comedian. Instead he supported Double’s view in that the course created more rounded individuals who explore their careers in various ways.
Both Double and Hoss also highlighted the academic side of the course, which VICE ignores. They both mentioned its place in the study of the ‘British Stand-Up Comedy Archive’, an institution established at the University of Kent in 2013 ‘to celebrate, preserve, and provide access to the archives and records of British stand-up comedy and comedians.’ From this Double also expanded into how the course matched many classic degrees such as ‘English Literature’ and ‘Film Studies’. He expressed that the skills it provided made it ‘no more or less valuable than studying English Literature or any other critical subject’.