The Science of Comedy

by Jenin Mannaa

The audience didn’t know what to make of my polka-dotted dress, orange sash, and pigtails until I opened my mouth.

“I am Ludmilla Linski—Soviet Russian Spy!”

Linski is one of the characters I have depicted in theater, and believe it or not, she’s among the least absurd.

In my pursuit of the scientific career of medicine, I always thought that I would have to relinquish my love for the performing arts—until I realized that comedy is integral to medicine. This philosophy began when I started volunteering at the daycare, where I met children like Neva. One particular afternoon, Neva’s face contorted as she approached me with a scraped knee. When the water works commenced, I brushed off her knee, bandaged her wound, and raised her to my hip. Employing a baritone voice that could rival Morgan Freeman’s, I bellowed, “Nevaaa, please don’t cry!” All traces of sadness dissipated as laughter overtook her.

That humorous interaction was one of many. During my volunteer work at the hospice clinic, I befriended Roseanne, a secretary who I conversed with during our lunch breaks. When I told her that I competed on the Speech team in the ‘Original Comedy’ category, she suggested that I perform for the other secretaries at the office. As I looked upon the faces of my audience members who were stricken with boredom from the monotony of their work, I set a goal for this performance: I wanted to revitalize the clinic. I shifted into character, contorting my face, adopted different voices, and relished in the laughter that permeated the room.

After volunteering within the community of Peoria, I wanted to broaden my scope. I volunteered virtually with the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children, and my destination was Alajeulita, Costa Rica—a small town rendered hopeless by the pandemic. I used my Spanish language skills to create posters displaying the safety precautions needed to combat the coronavirus. I worried that the impact of my presentation to the residents of Alajuelita would be hindered by my virtual presence and I would not be able to connect with the people I was trying to help. In an effort to diminish the barriers between us, I tried incorporating humor within my lecture… although the residents of Alajuelita may have been laughing at the flaws of my Spanish!

Comedy allows me to pursue my aspirations in medicine on an even grander scale. I want to help my patients overcome greater obstacles than a scrape on the knee. I want to restore their hope in dire situations and diffuse the monotony of their hospital experiences with laughter, and alleviate their ailments with both medical relief and amiability. Comedy and medicine may seem incompatible, but the culmination of my experiences volunteering at the daycare, medical clinic, and around the world have revealed that their relationship is symbiotic. Although my patients may never experience the eccentricities of my theater characters like Ludmilla Linski, I hope that in becoming a physician, I can heal with one laugh at a time.

About Jenin Mannaa

Jenin Mannaa is a rising senior at Dunlap High School. Her stellar academic performance has granted her entrance to the National Honors Society at her school. Jenin has expressed her love for advocacy through her involvement on the Dunlap Speech Team as Junior and Senior Captain. Within speech, her primary goal has been expressing her identity as a Muslim American woman. Jenin attended IHSA State for Oratorical Declamation her junior year of high school. Within her speech team, she was also awarded Sophomore and Junior MVP. Jenin’s passion for the arts is evident through her involvement in Stage 323, where she was inducted in the International Thespian Society. She has also been involved in Concert Choir, Women’s Chorale, and Show Choir throughout her high school career. Moreover, her devotion to garnering support for ethnic minorities motivated Jenin to create Dunlap’s UNICEF Club, which educates students about the tribulations of underprivileged individuals in impoverished countries. Within UNICEF, she leads fundraisers, and within the first few months of the club she raised approximately $500. During her summers, Jenin has spent over 200 hours volunteering at the Unity-Point Methodist Hospital within the daycare or shadowing various doctors within Peoria.

About Sophie Liu 

Sophie Liu is a senior at Dunlap High School who has won numerous art prizes such as the Scholastic Art and Writing Gold Key Award and several honorable mentions. As someone who also values academics, business, and volunteering, she has participated in and led many activities in her community. Her volunteering contribution has awarded her the Gold President’s Volunteer Service Award. She is one of the club leaders of her school’s Interact Volunteering Club. During her summers, Liu has participated in several business camps such as Kelley Business’s Young Women’s Institute, where she has gained knowledge and experience in her passion. She also runs her own online art business where she creates commissioned art pieces and gains firsthand business experience. Liu plans to continue her love of business, volunteering, and art in college, where she will major in either Marketing or Business Analytics and minor in art.