Political cartoonist and freelance writer Dwayne Booth, otherwise known as “Mr. Fish,” is teaching a class on satire this semester at the Annenberg School for Communication.
The course, "Sick and Satired: The Insanity of Humor and How It Keeps Us Sane," focuses on how humor could be considered one of the most influential and useful forms of communication. Students in the class analyze political cartoons and videos to explore a satirist’s role in society, both politically and culturally.
“It’s not like a typical college class,” said College senior Nicole De Almeida, a student in the class. “I think partly that’s because of [Booth], who is super casual and a very approachable professor. He talks about things that are really relevant and he doesn’t only lecture, he likes to engage us and hear our opinion on things."
Throughout the semester, Booth brings historical and contemporary examples of political cartoons as well as satire from literature and plays, he said.
“From satire, you can learn how critical thinking works and how exciting it can be to be brave enough to question authority,” Booth said.
Booth has worked as a cartoonist and freelance writer for over 20 years, publishing his work under both his own name and the pen name “Mr. Fish.” He said Americans often trust satirists to explain the news more than the traditional media.
Booth said his lectures for each class are really just a framework for discussion and that he invites students to respond in the moment to everything he says in the lecture.
“When it comes to satire, and when you’re looking at the history of satire, a lot of it is very inflammatory,” Booth said. “It’s about starting a conversation by inciting some sort of emotional reaction. So, if I’m showing them material and I’m trying to demonstrate the importance of that kind of material, I always want to be interrupted; I always want to be challenged. I’m trying to create an environment that is completely open to lively debate.”
De Almeida added that the class has shown her a new way to approach satire.
"People don’t normally take comedy seriously," De Almeida said. "I think what we learn in this class is that humor is just as high stakes as anything else. It’s just the way that information is delivered is different which allows it to communicate things differently and sometimes communicate it even better.”
2019 College graduate Jacob Gursky, who graduated from Penn last spring with a major in Communication, said "Sick and Satired" was one of his favorite classes at Penn. He added that he considers Booth a mentor and remains in contact with him.
“School can be pretty insular. Sometimes it feels like, at a place like Penn, they have a very specific way they want you to think," Gursky said. "I feel like it can become a space that isn’t very conducive to meaningful conversations. But in Mr. Fish’s class, you learn how to hold those conversations, how to question things, and the history of people who have questioned things.”