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Levity Live stand-up comedy class notebook: Is this thing on?
At the Levity Live comedy club in West Nyack, stand-up comedy classes are under way — and I'm among the students trying to bring down the house. Throughout the eight-week course, I'll be reporting on the experience from a first-person perspective. Here's part one.
If failure is a requirement for success, my first attempt at stand-up comedy as a senior at Eastchester High School's gong show could be considered ideal (I was gonged). Although I tried to laugh it off at the time, it took another 17 years for me to build up the confidence to try stand-up again.
In the years in between, I honed my performance skills through my college and semipro a cappella groups and thoroughly enjoyed five levels of improv comedy classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, but stand-up is different for obvious reasons: Unlike a cappella, performers have to earn a stand-up audience's trust, and unlike improv, the stand-up audience expects far funnier jokes, because you've had time to prepare them.
Before Cory Kahaney's class at Levity Live even started, some of the Hudson Valley's top comics, including Stony Point's Kerry Louise, offered me advice. So when she strolled in to sit in on the first week of class on March 12, I had to crack up, as she gave me no hint that she'd be sitting in.
Because it was the first such class offered at Levity Live, I was curious to see whom it would attract. I was a bit surprised that all but two of the 20 or so students in the class were men, especially given the high-profile success of women in stand-up in recent years. Student age runs the gamut, from a young'n who may be about 19 to a 70-year-old who just started doing comedy three years ago.
Every week, we're required to write two to three minutes of new material and perform for the class; memorization isn't a requirement at this stage, so I'm among the students printing out notes for the time being. After each performance, Kahaney offers feedback, then opens up comments to the floor.
Some students are more nervous than others, but the good news is most of the class has a strong feel for how a routine should work. It's clear that some of the comics have done this before but never necessarily heard the nonlaughter feedback it takes to get better. Having a solid group of comedy novices is a relief: Good classmates force their peers to raise their game.
For the first class, I was just OK. A few laughs here and there, but consistency was an issue. Kahaney told me she could see potential, but she noted that my material was coming across more like a New Yorker essay than as stand-up. My assignment for the following week was to write jokes without linking them together with segues.
The advice paid immediate dividends. This week yielded more laughs with consistency, and I even earned my first applause break, which I have to say, is one of the biggest rushes I've ever felt as a performer. It was by no means perfect — a few jokes didn't hit, and the skill level will be tested when I have to memorize my best bits — but my confidence was growing.
That is, until I joined my friend and fellow classmate Larry for a post-class discussion and some of his friends showed up, demanding I tell them a joke. My one-liner that had killed in the class setting earned a thick silence. In a related story, I am now one of those silent monks, but I have to say, this brown robe they gave me is really comfy.
For next week's class, I have to see if I can find a formula in one of my favorite stand-up comedian's routines, as well as write up another two or three minutes of material, all of which is leading up to the graduation show at Levity Live on Tuesday, April 23.
I'm not inviting Larry's friends.
For more about the Manhattan Comedy School, which runs the stand-up classes at Levity Live, visit www.manhattancomedyschool.com.