Iowa State's Comedy College is no joke - Omaha.com
go logo
article photo
article photo
article photo
article photo
Clayton Long completes his Comedy College final at the Maintenance Shop at Iowa State University. Long and other honors students learned the basics of standup comedy in the course.
article photo
Jacob Sporrer completes his Comedy College final at the Maintenance Shop.(AMY VINCHATTLE)
article photo
The final exam for Comedy College at ISU in Ames can make students sweat — and make their legs shake. That’s because each student has to perform for 10 minutes at the campus night club. Here, Curtis Ullerich takes his turn under the spotlights.(AMY VINCHATTLE)


Iowa State's Comedy College is no joke
By Kate Howard Perry / World-Herald staff writer


AMES, Iowa — Jacob Sporrer is crouched down in front of his classroom, clutching a microphone and turning an imaginary steering wheel.

“So me and my dad are driving down I-80 … listening to 'Amazing Grace.' He says, 'Son? You'd tell me if you were gay, right?' ”

Sporrer raises his eyebrows. His classmates crack up. He had them at “Amazing Grace.”

Most of the 20-year-old engineering major's other classes are a lot headier. But on this night, his topic is being mistaken for gay by everyone from the movie store clerk to his dad to his girlfriend. His grade depends on getting laughs.

That's because Sporrer and his classmates at Iowa State University were enrolled this semester in Comedy College, a new offering for honors students to learn the basics of the craft of standup comedy.

The course is co-taught by professional standup comedian and motivational speaker Gavin Jerome and economics professor Peter Orazem, who has taken off-campus classes from Jerome and found a new hobby in standup as a result.

Many of the students didn't realize the class would be so hands-on, but after a few weeks of lecture, they began writing their own material. They had to perform whenever called upon, although they did get one pass if they weren't ready. Some class rules: Cheer for all performers until they reach the microphone. Feedback should be constructive. Figure out your own style of funny.

“From the first day of class, we set up the atmosphere that we're all in this together, and you laugh with us and not at,” Jerome said.

When Sporrer finished his bit — stroking his facial hair and ending with a double entendre about getting a beard to stop all the questions — he got lots of applause, and several tips for next time from his audience and professors.

He's learned to shorten his jokes and focus on scenarios that don't require as much explanation. He's dropped the ones that don't quite work, like one about the movie “101 Dalmatians” that took about five seconds too many to figure out.

“You have to put the scenario in the audience's head in a sentence, and make what you think is funny actually funny,” he said. “That kind of standalone is something you don't think about.”

The students also learned that being funny to your friends who love you is a lot easier than being funny to strangers. They learned to plan timing and punchlines and make tweaks when the response wasn't what they expected.

And for Veronica Day, who grew up in a family where every gathering can turn into a joke-telling throwdown, the 20-year-old biology major has gained an edge.

She was often teased for her sense of humor arriving a little later than everyone else, but it's her family that's laughing now.

“The first time I came back and told a joke using some of the techniques I learned, my dad said, 'Wow, you actually learned to be funny!' ”

Her family, and that of many of her classmates, were in the audience last week for the two-night final exam: A showcase where every student had to perform 10 minutes of material at the night club the Maintenance Shop. To pass, their professor told the audience, they would each need to garner not five, not 10, but one laugh a piece.

Spoiler alert: they all passed.

Most looked comfortable on stage, though a few kept notes nearby. They all brought in laughs with jokes that went from tame to tawdry in a club environment not unlike an open mic night — if an open mic night included classmates, teachers and parents. But that didn't stop them from delivering the occasionally off-color material they'd been perfecting all semester.

“After the first few jokes, I was very nervous,” said Sporrer, who realized halfway through that his legs were shaking. But during a joke about playing racquetball, he ripped off pull-away pants to expose his gym shorts. He briefly wondered, did I really just do that? And then, poof. Nervousness was gone.

The feedback from most of his friends outside the class sounded like this: “Well, that was unexpected.” He believes that's because he's learned to tell jokes that could be funny no matter who delivered them, which is a little different from his natural sense of humor.

“I think most people who know me didn't expect me to be super funny,” he said.

Day also left her family surprised after her set, which ranged from an explanation of a clichť-ridden teenage life in Iowa to the frustration that comes with filling in the bubbles on standardized tests.

Her timing was great, Day's father had to admit. But he had questions about that list of clichťs — especially that joke about losing her virginity on prom night: “Sorry, Dad!”

That was just a joke, her father said, right?

“Welp,” Day told him. “You never know!”

Contact the writer: Kate Howard Perry

kate.perry@owh.com    |   402-444-3185    |  

Kate writes about Nebraska's community colleges, state colleges and university system.


Contact the Omaha World-Herald newsroom


Copyright ©2014 Omaha World-Herald®. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, displayed or redistributed for any purpose without permission from the Omaha World-Herald.

Latest Stories

How to win a $4,300 ‘Walking Dead #1' comic while also doing something nice
How to win a ,300 ‘Walking Dead #1' comic while also doing something nice

A local comic book shop is once again raffling away a pricey issue for a good cause.


Review: ‘Heaven is for Real’ leaves it to viewer to interpret its story
Review: ‘Heaven is for Real’ leaves it to viewer to interpret its story

My first reaction to “Heaven Is for Real” after a recent preview screening: best Christian-themed movie I’ve seen in quite a while. Two weeks later, that hasn’t changed.


Tips, recipes on how to spice up your traditional Easter ham
Tips, recipes on how to spice up your traditional Easter ham

While some home cooks like to keep it traditional, others may want to try recipes that go beyond the classic clove-studded ham covered in canned pineapple rings.


Tommy Lee Jones made a Nebraska western, and here's the trailer
Tommy Lee Jones made a Nebraska western, and here's the trailer

"The Homesman," an upcoming western from writer/director/actor Tommy Lee Jones, looks like something close to a sure thing.


Nebraska family and town depicted on the big screen in 'Heaven is for Real'
Nebraska family and town depicted on the big screen in 'Heaven is for Real'

Imperial family feels Colton’s inspirational story got heaven-sent production and reverential handling


Missing 3-year-old boy found in claw machine at Lincoln bowling alley
Missing 3-year-old boy found in claw machine at Lincoln bowling alley

He was uninjured and playing happily with the stuffed animals in the machine.


Norfolk man restoring Johnny Carson's childhood home
Norfolk man restoring Johnny Carson's childhood home

It’s been a long time since Johnny Carson slept in the tiny upstairs room in the modest little house at 306 S. 13th St. in Norfolk.
Carson was born in Iowa and moved to Norfolk with his family in the 1930s. They lived in at least one other house in Norfolk before moving into to the white, wood-frame structure on 13th Street.


South Omaha bar will reopen this week with new look, Skee-Ball
South Omaha bar will reopen this week with new look, Skee-Ball

The Brass Monkey will reopen its doors this week.


11 Nebraska-set movies that were filmed elsewhere
11 Nebraska-set movies that were filmed elsewhere

Here are 11 dirty, rotten lies.


Iowa music fest 80/35 announces Conor Oberst, Dr. Dog and more
Iowa music fest 80/35 announces Conor Oberst, Dr. Dog and more

Conor Oberst will headline 80/35 music festival in Des Moines, and the Bright Eyes frontman will be joined by Ziggy Marley, Best Coast, Dawes and more.


 
Search
Movies Opening this week

Movie showtimes and theater listings






Read this!








VIDEOS

Tonight in Prime Time
© 2014 Omaha World-Herald. All rights reserved