Student comedians placed at mercy of live audience

Mark Robinson
Staff Writer

Students from Theatre VCU’s stand-up comedy class hosted Comedy in the Compass Wednesday afternoon at 1 p.m.

The event was relocated from the Compass to Shafer Street Playhouse’s Richard Newdick Theatre due to poor weather conditions.

Though the rain may have thwarted the original plan, the performers responded to the last minute changes with resilience. Sketch and improv comedy were substituted for the street stand-up.

A skit that mocked VCU’s capitalistic tendencies following the recent success of the men’s basketball team drew laughs from the crowd. Imitating vendors, the performers attempted to peddle off Ed Nixon’s sandwich, a jar of Joey Rodriguez’s sweat and after a sniff-test, Jamie Skeen’s compression shorts.

Other targets included Shafer sharks (“Do you have a swipe?”), book buyback policies (“You wrote your name in it? Price reduction!”), and the DMV (“How long have you been here?”).

The stand-up comedy class is taught by John Porter, a comedian with over 15 years of stand-up experience. Porter earned both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from VCU. Including his work as an adjunct professor, he has been associated with VCU theatre for over 30 years.

The class is designed to teach students how to write and perform comedy. The focus isn’t limited to stand-up though; students also work to develop comedic skills in improv and sketch comedy.

Porter assigned Comedy in the Compass to expose his students to the harsh reality of street comedy.

“I want them to sweat a little,” he said. “Street comedy is comedy at its toughest.”

Porter explained that street comedy is difficult because it puts pressure on the performer to engage an audience that is disinterested and busy.

Timmy Douglas, a senior theatre performance major, is currently enrolled in Porter’s class.

“He’s had a really long career, and has a lot of experience,” Douglas said of Porter. “He’s really helped us find our niche in comedy.”

Douglas is well aware of the chance of embarrassment that coincides with street comedy.

“Hopefully it’s not a train wreck,” he said, prior to the event. “Street performance is difficult; you really have to reel people in to get their attention.”

Douglas, who graduates in May, enrolled in the class because he’s considering stand-up as a possible career path. He plans to move to Los Angeles after he graduates.

“At least if I’m homeless I’ll be warm there,” he joked.

In the three semesters the class has been offered, enrollment has extended from theatre majors to also include English and mass communications majors.

Porter is encouraged by the participation of students outside the theatre department.

“Humor applies to every life situation,” he said. “Everyone can benefit from learning more about it.”

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