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American U. professor brings laughs to journalism

Oct. 31, 2008

American U. -- At American University, teachers have high expectations for their students. But students also expect quality from their teachers. A teacher should be intelligent, reasonable and punctual.

It doesn't hurt if he's also a comedian.

Enter Doug Hecox, an author, journalist, public relations agent, adjunct professor in the School of Communication and professional stand-up comedian.

Hecox said it was not difficult to maintain his multiple occupations.

"Teachers and comedians have a lot in common," he said. "Each has a prepared course of information he or she wants to share with a group of folks who generally have not heard it before. The cover charge for college is much higher, but comedy clubs let you drink in class."

But Hecox's preferred class is Writing For Mass Communication, a course he has taught at AU since 2001.

"I like that the students are brand new," he said. "They come into this fairly green, as writers. I can watch their progress ... it's just more fun for me."

The fun doesn't just stay in the classroom. As a comedian, Hecox has performed at D.C.'s 9:30 club, New York City's Laugh Factory and, most recently, Denver's ComedyWorks, where he recorded his first CD, "Vote For Me," released earlier this month.

"I was very nervous," he said. "It was the first time I'd performed a set that long at that club ... I was pretty stressed about it."

Nerves didn't stop him from delivering outstanding material to create a genuinely hilarious debut. "Vote For Me" navigates the perils of illegal immigration, holidays and the political humor expected from a resident of D.C. Adding in personal anecdotes and sharp one-liners, Hecox keeps his jokes fresh and the audience guessing what presidential candidate he will bash next.

"I make fun of the Democrats because it's easy," Hecox said. "Someone says, 'Well how come you don't make fun of the Republicans?' ... Well, where do I start?"

But long before the jokes about presidential wannabes, Hecox found comedic pay dirt in the Crackerjack boxes prizes his parents gave him to keep him quiet on long trips.

"The [prizes] I liked were the tiny joke books," he said "I'd spend the rest of the trip memorizing one little riddle, and then we'd get to my grandparents', and I'd delight them with that joke I'd learned in the car."

Hecox enjoyed his first taste of an audience's approval and continued his comedic training by acting up in school. In high school, he competed on the speech team performing published, humorous material. By senior year, he had added his own jokes into the material and discovered the world of humor writing.

Comedy doesn't always stand the test of time because it depends so much on the audience's physical presence for success, but the written word can be consistently funny over time, he said.

"If you can come up with something that's really well-crafted, it's like sculpture," Hecox said. "Comedy is more like spatter painting."

His views on writing teamed with his background as a comedian made him the perfect candidate for teaching Writing for Mass Communication.

"Comedians are writers. They're writing their material ... they're getting it just right, and then they say it the same way over and over because that's the purest way," Hecox said. "Stripping away all the non-essential and getting to the bare bones, that is the essence of journalism."

Hecox said that with so many interests, he is lucky that they all complement each other, but he is careful not to blur the lines and be "a professor telling jokes."

"Trying to be 'on' all the time wears on people, and I worry that it could undermine my credibility," he said. "I think my keeping Writing and Teaching Doug, Public Relations Doug and Comedian Doug separated is a good thing. Psychologists call it schizoid. We're probably both right."

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