What do Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Bill Murray, and Bryant's Amber Day, Ph.D., all have in common? They've all spent time pursuing comedy at Chicago’s Second City, the oldest improvisational theater troupe in America.
“I was an actor when I was younger, and I actually took some time off from graduate school to do more sketch work and improv,” recalls the History, Literature, and the Arts department chair who’s spent the past 16 years at Bryant.
Intrigued by the push and pull of pop culture events and the different ways people view the world, Day found her calling in political satire and started researching and teaching courses on the topic. Coming into the role of department chair last year, Day has spent the last 12 months shepherding the College of Arts and Sciences’ Arts and Creative Industries program, assisting in the development of the university’s new General Education program, and overseeing the reorganization of Bryant’s History, Literature, and the Arts department — all while wrapping up her second book, which Indiana University Press will release in 2024.
Examining political satire
Day’s research focuses broadly on the intersections of art and political speech, including satire and irony, political performance and activism, and public debate — all of which led to the creation of her upcoming book on feminist comedians and culture wars. The content focuses on comedians who’ve attracted controversies and dustups because of their work, and the chapters are arranged by emotions elicited from the public.
She notes that the upcoming book starts with Leslie Jones and the harassment she received with the female reboot of Ghostbusters.
“That was when the ‘manosphere’ first really became visible in mainstream culture – the manosphere being networked men’s groups working together to promote misogyny and tear down anything perceived as feminist,” Day says.
She goes on to discuss how Amy Schumer received criticism from the left for some of her racial politics and was trolled by anti-feminists; ultimately, Schumer became a stand-in for white feminism and for those critiquing historical blind spots.
Her work also explores the twin controversies Samantha Bee and Michelle Wolf experienced several years ago when they criticized Ivanka Trump and American politician Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
“There was an interesting discourse around mothers and motherhood in both controversies,” Day says.
Lastly, a section on Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby discusses Gadsby’s Netflix comedy special, “Nanette,” which attracted a lot of cultural discussion due to its social commentary on perspectives of women, the LGBTQ+ community, and the comedy industry.
“The chapter with Gadsby is titled ‘Hope’ because, although she was roundly critiqued by some, there was a huge outpouring of support from others,” Day says.
Advancing Bryant’s art scene
Many of Day’s research pursuits inform her work in the classroom, specifically in Bryant’s “Political Satire” course, which has been her pet project upon arriving at Bryant. During class, students look at what satire and parody say about specific moments in a culture.
“We look at everything from television shows to viral videos to ironic activism, while also taking a look at more historical materials as well,” says Day, who’s happy to share her passion with others.
Day says the new Arts and Creative Industries program expands on Bryant’s established courses in creative writing, visual arts, and performance. In addition to an arts administration course that explores community engagement in the arts and arts administrators’ responsibilities, students are required to complete two arts-related internships — one at Bryant and another in the Providence area.
“There'll be a focus on the arts in the world, how they are positioned, and how to get involved in various industries — which is a great combination for students,” Day says. “Bryant students are really attractive for area organizations because they know their art form and, because of their business minor, they have proclivity balancing books and using spreadsheets.”
Day, who’s the former advisor for the university’s theater group, is currently teaching Bryant’s “Studies in Drama” course, in which she focuses on theater involving political engagement.
“A lot of the bigger theater movements have happened because people want to burn the whole thing down and do something new because they're passionate about speaking, getting audiences engaged, and making people think about things,” Day says, adding how they study environmental theater, street theater, and contemporary theater.
Day adds that Arts and Creative Industries can take students in a variety of career directions: Some may aspire to be professional artists and want to learn basic business principles so they understand how to manage their art and position it within the world; others may desire to surround themselves with the arts by doing things such as conducting educational outreach for a symphony or launching a recording studio.
“This major will help students think about all the ways they can use creativity in positions they may not have even known existed,” Day says. “I’m looking forward to raising the profile of the arts on campus and the really great creative work our students are already doing and will be accomplishing more of.”