The Art of the Joke

I heard them before I saw them; heard them laughing as I climbed the staircase to the third fl oor of Goodnights

Comedy Club. They weren’t laughing at a joke from a nationally touring comic in the main room or even at a

punchline from an amateur at the open mic in the downstairs bar. They were laughing with each other, a group

of a dozen men and women of all ages, from all walks of life, comprising the Standup 101 class. They were

bartenders, lawyers, teachers; all were eager to learn the craft of comedy.

The class is geared to people interested in doing stand-up but who don’t necessarily know how to get start-

ed. “They tend to have a good sense of humor and are generally open-minded,” co-instructor Matt White says.

Local comics White and Brent Blakeney have taught the class since 2016. They promise students will learn

comedy basics, how to craft ideas into jokes and to structure and edit comedy routines. Students eagerly scrib-

bled down White’s musings and Blakeney’s suggestions for YouTube clips to watch and podcasts to download

as homework.

The evening’s focus was on writing a joke—or at least beginning to write a joke—that could eventually

evolve into a bit or even a full stand-up routine. Each student chose a premise to pitch to the group, from the

lessons learned from a fi ve-hour stint in jail to the pros and cons of starting a fraternity for toddlers. Feedback

was e usive and fast-paced as we workshopped each others’ ideas and laughed. Laughed a lot.

It was easy to see both instructors as stand-up comics, though that’s not to say they used the class as a

sounding board for their own ideas. Instead, White and Blakeney had an easy rapport with the group, o ering

observations without imposing their comedic will on students writing their fi rst jokes. Genuine, constructive

critiques pushed the students to arrive at the best possible versions of their premises.

When one would-be comic shu ed his pages of already-written notes,

White urged him to choose an idea he hadn’t yet done. “That’s not the

process,” he said. The student thought for a minute and pitched a

new idea that quickly took shape as he talked his way through

it. By the end of the evening, he was furiously scribbling, giddily

fi lling up notebook pages.

“It’s gotta be personal,” White said, “because you have more vested

in it.” A woman with braces pitched an idea about famous singers with lisps after

explaining that, since she got braces, she couldn’t sing in the car like she used to.

A 10-minute roundtable about which singers and songs would work best for her

joke had us in stitches again. “See?,” said White. “Everything can become comedy.”

Blakeney added that students should look to the mundane as material: “Anything

you can see that’s absurd in life—use that.”

As I watched their confi dence blossom, I thought that even if some of these

folks never tell their jokes on a stage, the interaction they had in the class made

it all worthwhile. I asked White about that—how many students continue doing

standup after the six week course? “You get out of it what you put into it,” he re-

plied. “There’s a lot of potential that comes out of the class. Some people move

onto the Standup 130 class [with focus on improv and writing], which tends to weed

out the hobbyists. But standup is a beast and can be extremely intimidating. [You]

have to accept that and adapt to the lifestyle before [you] can really get into it.”

I left with the wheels in my head turning on the premise of my own joke,

lamenting that I wouldn’t be back the following Wednesday to continue fi ne-tun-

ing it. However, the six-week course ends with a graduation-of-sorts showcase at

Goodnights, where friends and family are invited to hear the class perform its full-

fl edged stand-up routines. I know I’ll be there. I’ll hear them again and, I guarantee,

I’ll be laughing.