Aspiring comedians learn time-tested ways to get a laugh. One big lesson: sex sells
A bottle of water, a stool, a microphone stand and a spotlight were my only friends on stage at Chico Comedy College’s showcase. After a brief introduction by the “dean,” nerves got the best of me and I completely forgot what I was going to talk about. Luckily, I had taped a list of topics to the stool, and I took a quick glance before I began my stand-up routine.
I was one of two students at the “college,” which was really a two-day workshop at Chico Theatre Co. Our “professor,” Randy Zachary, local media personality and a comedy college graduate, compiled a packet filled with lessons on subjects for jokes and how to write them.
A few months ago, Zachary and Marc Edson, the theater’s managing director, wanted to create a workshop-based comedy course modeled after comedy colleges in the Bay Area. Trying to develop the course was easier said than done, Zachary noted, but they decided to run this “semester” as a pilot course to work out any kinks. They hope to do a more in-depth session during the fall, when college students return to town.
The learning curve was steep. First, we went over some of the information in the packet; then Zachary asked which topics we had chosen for the following night’s performance. My classmate, Lisa Saldano, chose single parenting, dating and her job at the university police station.
It was my turn; without giving it a second thought, I chose sex because it seemed like it would be the most awkward and easiest topic for people to relate to. Zachary and Saldano both became silent, and I knew I would either sink or swim at the showcase.
The instructional packet contained guidelines developed by comedian Greg Dean (author of Step By Step to Stand-up Comedy)—"The Joke Map,” which gives useful tips on developing jokes. Zachary outlined the most important ideas the map had to offer, such as breaking down topics into positive and negative groups and developing a punch line premise for every topic.
Then it was movie time.
“Let’s see how facial expressions and delivery can be essential to your stand-up,” Zachary said as he played Brian Regan’s debut DVD I Walked on the Moon. Regan, who slightly resembles Will Ferrell, is a rising star in stand-up comedy who utilizes every muscle in his face and body to enhance his routine.
The DVD was so entertaining that I forgot to take notes. Fortunately Zachary didn’t quiz us it, but he did assign homework. I had to go home and work on some material using the map and be ready to run through my routine before the showcase. But just like with every other class I’ve taken, I procrastinated and assumed the two hours before the showcase would be more than enough time to develop my jokes.
I found stand-up comedy takes a lot of practice and even more effort.
Saldano, being the eager and willing student, showed up ready to rock the mic. I was still trying to decide exactly how I could make sex funny. Zachary had us run through our routines in front of him one hour before the showcase. Saldano made us laugh with stories about being a frugal parent, online dating and chats with girlfriends.
I hadn’t developed any material, so I decided that I would improvise and make raunchy sex jokes about past relationships and dating experiences. I never would have guessed that sexual debacles could result in a good stand-up routine, but it actually worked and I passed what seemed like a midterm.
The final test was less than 30 minutes away, and nerves and doubt had overcome me. A handful of friends and co-workers, mostly Saldano’s, began filtering into the theater, and it dawned on me that I was about to get on a stage and reveal embarrassing details about my personal life. Then I realized the details were embarrassing for the other person involved in the story—not me.
After a preview of A Night at the Sands, an upcoming production at the theater, and a comedy routine from Zachary and his wife, Monica, it was showtime. The spotlight was incredibly hot, and I immediately began to sweat. If my routine didn’t get laughs, I was sure my sopping-wet pits would.
The spotlight was bright and the rest of the theater was so dark that I couldn’t see any faces, which made it easier on me. My jokes were raunchy and somewhat explicit. For example, falling asleep during sex wasn’t a pleasant experience for me, but it was great for the audience when I performed my “love moan,” otherwise known as snoring. But judging from the biggest laugh I got, the audience was able to relate best to my worst habit during sex: sneaking a peek at the clock, which apparently everyone does.
I began to panic as my bank of embarrassing sex stories became overdrawn, so I headed over to my trusty cheat sheet taped to the stool. I muttered some random thoughts, drank some water and realized I had gone through all of my material. And just like one of my jokes about quick finales in bed, I ended my routine abruptly and cleared the stage for Saldano.
The green room at the theater was equipped with a monitor so I could check out Saldano’s act, and she was a riot and just as explicit as I was. After our curtain call, Saldano and I decided we would try pursuing stand-up locally. Keep a lookout for two raunchy women coming to a venue near you.