At US Colleges, a Lesson in Laughter

It’s a comedy night at Johns Hopkins University. Members of the university’s Stand-up Comedy Club are performing dialogues, cracking jokes, doing funny moves and face gestures.

They might be a little bit nervous at the beginning, but the experience is invigorating. Their jokes bring lots of laughter to normally busy, often stressed-out, students.
 
But comedy, as club member Ariella Shua says, is serious work. In their weekly meetings, students try out and rehearse the jokes they wrote over the week.
 
“Whoever is reading, we read all of the material, and then we would go joke by joke and see what works and what doesn’t,” she said. “So, it starts as an individual project for yourself and becomes a group effort.”
 
Since joining last year, Shua has become a better observer of what’s going around her. She doesn’t go anywhere without her notebook.
 
“It’s in my backpack all the time,” she explained. “Whenever I just have a thought in my head that seems like, ‘Oh, this is strange,’ or when I see something or overhear someone saying something in the library, I just write it down. Later, when I’m trying to write my own set, I go walk through that notebook to see if there is anything in there that I can use.”
 
A funny break
 
Along with achieving academic excellence, universities across the United States encourage their students to explore their potential and develop interests beyond their major. Joining an on-campus club is a good way to do that. Whether they are cultural, social, political or recreational, these clubs give students a voice and a chance to hone various skills, from community engagement to being funny. That is what the Stand-up Comedy Club offers.
 
Club president Nicholas Scandura finds that writing is one of the many skills he has developed since joining the club.

“Writing jokes is really fun,” he said. “It takes a lot of critical thinking.”

The club gives its members a sense of community. When they meet, they share funny experiences, tell jokes and laugh.

“It’s just a nice, relaxing break,” Scandura said.
 
Over the past decade, stand-up comedy clubs have become common on college campuses in America.

“Now that it’s become a popular pop culture, everyone wants to do it,” he said.
 
While students use the stand-up comedy format to express themselves and exercise their freedom of speech, they usually stay away from certain controversial topics.
 
“If you offend people, if you say something and people are going to hate you for saying it, why are you up saying it? Scandura said.
 
Funny in real life
 
Last year, sophomore Harry Kuperstein joined the club and discovered it was a natural fit for his personality. Observing ironies and funny aspects of different situations improved his perspective on life. Becoming an active member also helped him work on the future skills he will need as a neurosurgeon.
 
“Elements of, say, talking to patients as a doctor.  I think that being good in scripting and just having jokes ready to go might help smooth these interactions and make you a better public speaker,” he said.
 
Fellow club member Alex Hecksher Gomes, a computer science major, credits the club for helping him develop his own style and discover the secrets of writing good comedy.
 
“Not always tell the truth. Sometimes, it’s funny to go after your imagination,” he said. “You kind of get stuck in doing it, if you just follow what actually happened. Also, don’t always go with your first idea. I definitely thought some things that I said were funny, and then looked back. And where I got to with the joke was a lot funnier than when I started.”
 
‘Tomato Show’
 
Despite the workshops, rewritings and run-throughs, some ideas just aren’t funny.

Club member Benjamin Monteagudo said performing in front of a student audience doesn’t mean comedians won’t receive harsh criticism. Last year, they came up with an idea to keep the audience involved and get their feedback.
 
“We called it ‘Tomato Show,’ where if you were performing very badly on stage, we just let the audience throw tomatoes at us to kind of roll with the joke. So, we spent our entire budget on a big box of foam tomatoes. There were 200 to 300 of them. We gave them to the audience, and it was the best show ever. I think the audience was really engaged because of the tomatoes. And it helped us stay attentive and focused.”

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