Nightmares are usually no laughing matter—but that changed when WBUR’s You’re the Expert radio program brought three comedians together with a Suffolk professor described on the show as “one of the world’s leading experts in nightmares.”
The comedians had to guess Psychology Professor Gary Fireman’s area of expertise and then engage in games and sketch work that drew upon his research area.
Fireman, chair of the University’s Psychology Department, likes a good laugh, so he subjected himself to the queries from comedians Maeve Higgins, who has appeared on Inside Amy Schumer, and Matt Porter and Charlie Hankin, codirectors/costars of Comedy Central’s New Timers. Hankin also is a New Yorker cartoonist.
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You’re the Expert host Chris Duffy of WBUR, the Boston affiliate of National Public Radio, is traveling nationwide to find fascinating specialists. He recorded the ‘Nighmares” show on the Suffolk campus and afterwards spent time with students from a Theatre Department improvisation class and with members of Seriously Bent, the University’s award-winning improv comedy troupe. They discussed how to create a career in comedy and media.
The You’re the Expert panel of comedians quickly honed in on Fireman’s academic interest. They went from asking if he works “in the dirt” and eventually to “with the human body,” which led them to ask if he researches the mind and nightmares.
During an interview segment, Fireman acknowledged that he keeps his interests to himself outside of work.
“I usually don’t tell people what I do, because I don’t want them to—on an airplane—put their head on my shoulder and tell me their nightmares,” he said.
Another revelation: He doesn’t remember many of his own dreams.
Later, Fireman elaborated on the show’s topic.
When asked about use of the word “nightmare” in contexts other than dreaming, Fireman said: “Nightmare is a wonderful expression, and many things can feel like a nightmare. It speaks to our emotional experience--and an unhappy one at times. In my life on the MBTA’s Red Line, ‘nightmare’ works.”
Fireman’s expertise extends beyond dreams and nightmares, and he acknowledged that “like many things in psychology, certainly the history of studying dreams and nightmares, is controversial. My take is that dreams are very personal; they have to do with your personal memories and your personal experiences. I can help listen to your story, but the meaning is only true as it relates to you.”