(Originally published on Blogcritics.org)
Can you learn to be funny? The folks at Flappers University believe you can, and having spent a day at their “Intro to Comedy Intensive” class, I’m inclined to agree.
This class, to prepare you to do stand-up comedy, is just one of a dozen courses offered at Flappers University, a project of Flappers Comedy Club. Flappers has locations in Burbank and Claremont, California. I’d been to the Burbank location several times. Comedy is the feature at night, but during the day you might find club meetings, birthday parties, or even bar mitzvahs being hosted there.
Stand-up has never been on my career radar, but I won a ticket to this event when I went to see a friend and graduate of the class, Gail Moss, do her stand-up debut (see her debut in the video below). I’d heard that learning to do comedy was helpful to writers, so, on a recent Saturday morning, I found myself with about 30 other people eating donuts and waiting to be edumicated.
Comedy is a learn-by-doing skill and almost immediately the instructors – all experienced, working comedians – had us newbies up on the stage. They started with the basics, such as how to handle a microphone and how not to get tangled in the cord. They moved on to what makes people laugh and the structure of a joke.
I was amazed at the sophistication of the training. They built up students’ confidence by first having us on stage in large groups, then breaking us down into small teams, and finally having each student on stage alone. Instructors sat with each person and discussed their ideas and concerns. There was a detailed 20-page handout with room for notes. They used videos of well-known comedians such as Wanda Sykes and Ron White and analyzed what they did in order to support the teaching points.
Although I have no intention of pursuing a stand-up career, I am considering some of their other classes, such as “The Sitcom Writers’ Room” or “Intro to Producing Comedy Videos Online.” So, I decided to ask my friend Gail what she thought of her experience.
“I took the one-day comedy intensive. That was great, it really got me feeling like I could do comedy,” she said. “Then a class on act-outs – that’s when you show rather than tell the punch line. It really got me up and moving on stage and that energy can really get crowds laughing even if your joke is just so-so.”
Gail took the beginning class and has now moved on to intermediate. She credits instructor Shannon Gettins Stroud for motivating her. Gail said: “The best! Really got the ball rolling for me which made me want more.”
I asked Gail what motivated her to make the leap into comedy.
“Everybody said I was funny and I wanted to see if I really was,” she smiled, “or if they were just drunk. Then when I got the idea that I might be able to use my stand-up to shine light on the sitcom pilot I wrote, I was sold on doing it.”
Gail said that the people she’s met through comedy have made it worthwhile. She explained, “The coolest part has been the friends I’ve made. I love it when I’m able to make them laugh with my jokes or sometimes give them suggestions that they’re able to use with their jokes. Everyone has been so supportive; there is no competition between us.”
I asked her if she had any shows coming up. “Sure do,” she said. “I have been booked a lot since finishing my first class. I am not exactly headlining. I’m doing mostly five-minute sets, but you’ve got to start somewhere and really it would not be a good idea to start too big. Get your feet wet a couple minutes at a time in small shows with your family and friends in the audience. Then go from there.”
I ended the interview with a classic improv prompt. “And…?”
Gail responded: “And… do something every day toward your dreams no matter what your dreams are.”