Make ’em laugh 101
All About Acting’s stand-up comedy class
What do you call six people standing in a circle shouting strange noises at each other? No, this isn’t a joke … yet. These are stand-up comedy students at the All About Acting studio in Reno. The noises? Just one of several warm-up exercises, which include playing “invisible” volleyball and having a conversation using only questions.
Now something more challenging. Fill in the blank: “My life would be perfect if it weren’t for ____.” Students shout out answers, like “my ex-wife,” “body odor,” “orange construction cones,” and, of course, “my gonorrhea.” They’re all class clowns.
Instructor Mia Wolf owns All About Acting. Wolf, a Washington native, earned her BFA in drama from Seattle University and studied dance at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. Since moving to Reno, Wolf has coached at John Robert Powers modeling agency and has produced and directed children’s theater for Washoe County Schools. Last November, as an acting coach with just a handful of private clients, Wolf opened All About Acting for students interested in learning acting, modeling and comedy skills. Courses, which all run five weeks, include Get a Job, Child Star, All About Acting, and of course, Stand-up Comedy.
Wolf offers the comedy class to both adults and young people, ages 12-18, although it takes a certain maturity to enroll. Students must commit time and effort, in and out of class, to developing material. Her only teen in this current session is Joel Rihaly, who Wolf predicts will be a star.
“I think he has the most potential of any comic in this town,” she says. “He’s dedicated. And such a great writer, with an innate sense of timing. He gets away with saying crazy stuff, and he’s only 16!”
The course teaches the mechanics of joke writing, harvesting material, timing and delivery, and most importantly, improvisational skills.
“There are only three times you’re ever going to need to do improv,” says Wolf. “On stage, off stage, and in life.” While students are on stage doing routines, Wolf and her guest coaches even plant hecklers in the audience. “It’s about learning how to handle yourself. Improv creates that kind of comfort, where you learn that you can tackle life and handle it. It’s empowering.”
That’s why she considers this class her most valuable offering. It isn’t just for aspiring stand-up comics. “It’s for life,” says Wolf. “It’s being able to get on stage and be comfortable with yourself. This doesn’t mean you’re going to get up there and be fabulous. It just means you’re OK with yourself up there, and you’re OK if you make a mistake. You’ll move through it.” Not only that, but the class offers a healthy dose of “laugh therapy,” which is something we can all use more of.
Wolf, who describes her own comic style as “edgy, raw and blue,” also brings in guest comedians/ coaches, like Scott Fonteccio, a corporate comedian who makes his living entertaining at events, or her next planned coach, Mike Price, a former writer for Golden Girls and Night Court. This way, students are exposed to different styles and receive more support.
“Everybody should take this class,” says Wolf. “Being shy doesn’t really matter. When you’re on stage, you’re a different person. We bring that out in you, and you have fun doing it. And we gotta make this life a little easier.”