September 10, 2020 — When he was a child growing up in New York, actor/comedian Nicholas Santa Maria loved to listen to his parents laugh about the antics of Charlie Chaplin or the Marx Brothers.

“I realized they seem to enjoy themselves most of all when their friends and contemporaries would come over and they would talk about old movies,” Santa Maria said. “I always felt more comfortable in that old movie world.”

Santa Maria plans to share his work and research into what made Americans laugh through the last century with “For the Love of Laughter: The History of Film Comedy in America,” part of the lineup for CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI)’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) fall series.

Registration is open for the eight-week session, which begins Sept. 14 and includes 14 courses about current events, history, comedy, art, film, music and much more. The classes will be via Zoom from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. on dates listed on the OLLI schedule.

OLLI Program Coordinator Michael Trainor said the program went fully online abruptly this spring, right after the pandemic hit, and some Zoom training for both instructors and students was necessary, but that OLLI righted itself and is as robust as ever.

“We were about six weeks into our eight-week session and we had to figure out what we were going to do,” Trainor said. “We had lots of OLLIs across the nation just shut down. That was not an option for us.”

Trainor said he’s pleased to see such a rich selection of courses this fall including an exploration of the lives of primates; 20th Century novelists; Russian classical music; Roman and Greek mythology; the blues; the weather and the Roman cities stopped in time by a volcanic eruption, Pompeii and the lesser known Herculaneum, just west of the ancient city.

Pompeii“Pompeii was largely covered in ash whereas Herculaneum was covered in volcanic sludge, which was a boon for archaeologists as so much of the city was preserved,” said OLLI instructor Laura Hagel, who teaches History and Art Appreciation at Ventura College. “There are wooden screens and partitions in homes or in shops that are still intact. Even food on the counter. It’s pretty amazing.”

The fall OLLI courses range from ancient to contemporary studies, such as “From Civil Rights to Black Power: The Struggle for Equality in America, 1914-1975,” which will be taught by CSUCI Communication Lecturer David Parsons, Ph.D.

“This class is the result of a number of students who are interested in current events and were emailing me,” Parsons said. “They wanted to understand the larger historical context of what’s happening in America right now—particularly with the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in all 50 states. It’s actually something more mature.”

Parsons will track the evolution of civil rights from 1941—when the U.S. entered World War II—to 1975, the end of the Vietnam War.

“I’m going to frame it around the wars because both of those wars have a lot to do with conversations about race in America,” Parsons said. “Many of the folks in my OLLI program lived through these periods of time and share their own experiences.”

Santa Maria will take students further back in 20th Century history to the evolution of American comedy, starting with vaudeville and silent films. Santa Maria, who is a standup comic himself, and has performed in “The Producers” and “Grease” on Broadway and has a long list of film and writing credits. He plans to treat OLLI students to the works of Charlie Chaplin; Buster Keaton; Mae West and the Marx Brothers, to name just a few comic legends.

When it came to silent movies, nobody could touch Chaplin, in Santa Maria’s opinion. He mastered a lot of what humor is all about—telling the truth.

“We deflate the pompous and show them for what they are with humor,” Santa Maria said. “Humor is one of the greatest weapons we can use. Chaplain did it to Adolf Hitler. We still do it today. We are doing the exact same thing we’ve always done and will always do.”

OLLI is designed for lifelong learners age 50+. Classes are $80 for each eight-week class with unlimited access to all fall classes for $185. A couple or household can get access to all fall classes for a total of $235.

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