How many opportunities did you have last semester to go see an English professor give a lecture about books? Lots, probably. But you only had a weekend to go see Bradley Bazzle ’02, an English major, give a lecture entitled “God Wants Gold.” If you missed it, you’ve got a couple more chances this semester to see the last two installments of one of the most unique blends of comedy and intellectual daring that Yale has to offer.
Four hilarious men including Bazzle, Adam Wells ’02, Jeff Miller ’03 and Ian Cheney ’02, form the Western Canon Committee, a group of mock professors who give a series of four lectures throughout the year on such topics as corruption, revolution, exploration and revelation.
“The idea was conceived last year by Bradley, who wanted to do a series of plays on the Western Canon with the other three of us,” Wells remembered. “We’d each write and direct our own play, with the three non-writers for each play being the principle performers. The idea eventually evolved into this ridiculous concept — we’d all be professors.”
Apparently the writer/director of each script is the lecturing professor, with the other three acting out the lecturer’s thesis using a technique they call “performative exemplar,” a style that is basically an alternation between lecture notes and short scenes provided to supplement those ideas that have been presented. In past lectures, these short scenes have included a dance by Wells, who was playing a mechanized Henry Ford. But while the performance itself is intended to be comedic, these guys certainly take their preparation very seriously.
“Maybe some audience members find our premises ridiculous, as well as the seriousness with which we take ourselves,” Bazzle said. “This might be funny to them. Some would associate God with mercy or justice or a mixture of the two, but I argued that He values gold over both of those things.”
And this is the basis for the concept of the Western Canon Series — taking highly intellectual concepts and drawing upon bold theses that highly intellectual people wouldn’t touch. These men actually bone up on Western literature, history and philosophy before they write their scripts. They also ask the same of their audiences. In the e-mail they sent out to publicize their first show in October, they requested that “in order to fully enjoy our argument, we recommend that you refresh your memory on several texts.” The list then went on to include “The Death of King Arthur,” “Paradise Lost,” and “The Gospel According to John.”
The e-mail publicizing the second show, Cheney’s elegant argument that “Industry ends revolution,” included a request to those planning to attend to review the Bible. “These aren’t shows for everyone, perhaps,” Cheney remarked.
Following the Saturday performance of each installment of the canon is an optional section in which the lecturer leads the discussion and the audience members are expected to ask questions. The other three guys contribute whenever they think they’ve reached a unique conclusion by acting it out.
“The discussion section, of course, is impromptu,” Miller noted. “We tailor the section to the inquiries of the attendees.”
Bazzle added, “The participants are mostly male.”
To which Miller replied, “You might wonder at the lack of female professors on the committee. The responsibility for this, I think you will agree, lies squarely with professor Bazzle.”
Anyway, this is a great opportunity to see four of Yale’s finest talents at their best. Chances are you’ve laughed at these guys before. All appear in either the widely popular Viola Question improv comedy troupe or The Fifth Humour sketch comedy troupe — Miller actually finds time for both.
“We’re all extremely vain,” Wells commented.
Bazzle agreed: “More vain than even regular professors.”
Wells and Miller are still awaiting their turns to shock the Yale community with the conclusions they have drawn from the teachings of Western thought. Wells is on deck for a show scheduled in March, and he will be lecturing on exploration. Miller completes the series with a lecture on revelation in April.
“I am awaiting my time with a vengeful and merry disposition,” he said.