Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

21 Jan 2001, 12:39 p.m.

An extended narrative on teaching, comedy, and temperament

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2001 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

I'm at the life stage where I should be thinking not just about jobs, but about careers. I'm something of an extrovert, I like to write, and I enjoy hanging out with geeks. What to do?
What follows is a meditation/narrative on thought-provoking incidents and situations I've had in the past few years (unless I stretch back to my sixth grade talent show cameo) (which I very well may). Your mileage may vary. The first part of, I think, two.

To back up:

Part I:

I am a student at UC Berkeley, where the research is world-class and the classes are scarce. At least once every year I play The Waiting Game, hoping that enough people will drop a class, or be unwilling to take an 8 a.m. discussion section with a Graduate Student Assistant (a teaching assistant to the professor), so that I can enroll. A good Graduate Student Instructor is doubly precious: she motivates me to prepare for class, and she makes that 8 a.m. discussion enjoyable, educational, and mind-expanding.

I've had a few terrific GSIs here in the Political Science Department. One of them is a particular favorite of mine: funny, down-to-earth, very smart, and a fantastic teacher. He brought me to understand the texts in the course in a completely different way. Everyone in the department, it seems, loves him -- undergraduates, faculty, other grad students. This semester, students practically fought to switch into one of his dicussion sections for the course he's TAing. (The other is -- you guessed it -- ear-lie in the mornin'.)

Once I observed a conversation he had in the hallway in Barrows, the political science headquarters. A friend of his was urging that he acquaint himself with a female friend of hers, possibly with view to a romantic liaison. "She's really funny, just like you, you'd like her," -- I paraphrase -- she said.

And he replied -- was it a joke? -- that two exhibitionists don't go well together.

Part II:

Shortly after taking his class, I learned about the comedy nights that we have here at Cal. The Heuristic Squelch, our comedy magazine, puts them on in conjunction with ASUC Superb, the entertainment arm of our student government. A few professional comedians come in and do their spiels, and then there's an open mic. Students can go up and do five minutes worth of "Catch a Rising Star, Or Maybe Just a Fratboy On a Dare." Once in a while, the audience wishes the limit were ten minutes. More often, it wishes it were two.

I signed up. I did okay. I've performed three more times since them, and will probably do some schtick at the next one in a week -- Sat., 27 January. Once I did great, the other times not as well. But I like it. I like giving people humor, pulling the rug out from under them at the punchline, making them laugh. There's a power there, having them listen to me, their attention focused on my words, my creation. And when they laugh, when my joke has worked as well as any line of code or any Swiss watch -- that's my drug. That's my moment in the sun.

I know, it's not a living. I don't intend to quit my day job.

But first I have to figure out what that will be. Tomorrow: Part III. Teaching and temperament.

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Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at