For Cornell University Department of Performing and Media Arts PhD student Kriszta Pozsonyi and sophomores Mihoko Sakanaka and Andraya DiMeglio, comedy is no laughing matter. For their work in PMA 1135: Screen Queens of Comedy in spring 2017, each received cash prizes from the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines.
Pozsonyi, whose scholarly interests include screen cultures, comedy performance, and gender studies, developed the course to analyze how American comediennes in the 20th and 21st centuries tackle social issues through humor. Although first-year writing seminars are demanding, Pozsonyi wanted students to have fun learning about the long line of women who have shaped American comedy.
The course's focus on female comedy appealed to DiMeglio, an applied economics and management major, as an "interesting and diverse" way to expand her writing ability.
She won the Gertrude Spencer Prize, which recognizes a student and instructor for their work toward developing a finished essay. DiMeglio’s winning piece focused on how Ellen DeGeneres incorporates her homosexuality into her comedy.
“DiMeglio’s fine essay is the result of a carefully scaffolded writing assignment sequence, developed with perceptive and careful feedback from Pozsonyi,” according to the Spencer Award committee. “DiMeglio’s prose is polished and she employs key source material to support her own astute observations in a very scholarly fashion.”
Sakanaka, a chemical engineering major, won the Gertrude Spencer Portfolio Award for five essays she submitted that touched on Samantha Bee’s political statements, Mabel Normand’s strong female characters, and Saturday Night Live’s portrayal of politicians. The Gertrude Spencer Portfolio Award recognizes a student and instructor for developing an excellent portfolio of pieces from their first-year writing seminar.
Pozsonyi notes that Sakanaka not only has a “strong, witty voice in her writing,” but developed “a remarkable fluency in thoughtfully engaging with complicated scholarly writing.”
Sakanaka appreciates Pozsonyi’s support throughout the semester, especially since she wanted to write about controversial topics.
“I feel encouraged by the tenacity of these women and am now more cognizant of how important it is to have many voices and perspectives in comedy,” said Sakanaka.
The Knight Institute also awarded Pozsonyi the Knight Award for Writing Exercises for her homework assignment that had students reflect on George Cukor’s 1939 film The Women.
“Beyond Andraya’s and Mihoko’s consistent hard work, I am especially happy that they received the Spencer Prize and the Portfolio Award because both of these categories reward close collaboration between the instructor and her student,” said Pozsonyi. “I really believe that such collaboration is the most valuable, joyful, and rewarding aspect of being a teacher.”
Julian Robison '20 is a communications assistant for the Department of Performing and Media Arts.