My friend Michael and I are taking a standup comedy class at Santa Monica College Extension. It’s full of the kind of people you’d expect to find taking a class in the continuing education wing of a community college, which is to say the class itself is probably the best source of material I’ve had in a long time.
We meet at the John Adams Middle School, in a classroom that’s used by a fifth grade math class during the day. I’ve never seen Mr. Hart, the math teacher, but I can tell he fosters a kind of Glengarry Glen Ross atmosphere by posting a bunch of alternately motivational and disciplinary signs around the room. One is titled “Questions Mr. Hart Will Not Answer” and includes entries such as “What time is it?” (Answer: “Who cares?”), “Can I sharpen my pencil?” (“No, you should’ve done that before class!”), “What is the date?” (“Look at the board!”) and “What does my grade mean?” (“It means what it means!”) Mr. Hart seems to be fond of exclamation points.
If you want to know what time it is in Mr. Hart’s classroom, you’d better wear a watch. That’s because he has a piece of paper taped over the clock in order to prevent students from watching the seconds tick away. The paper reads, “Life is too short. Never wish time away!” There are several reminders of September 11th taped up as well.
Our standup teacher is decidedly less disciplined than Mr. Hart, especially when it comes to the Lebanese Sisters, Lyla and Sophia. They appear to be in their late 50s, although if they’ve prematurely aged, it’s definitely from talking too much. They find each other very amusing, which is good for them, because nobody else does. Our teacher never stops them from talking, which in my mind makes him a bad teacher. If he wanted to teach these women how to be funny, he could start with two words: “Shut up”.
The teacher is even older than they are. Most of his comedy references are to names like Joey Bishop or Rodney Dangerfield or Andy Rooney. He also happens to be in the new Jamie Kennedy movie, Malibu’s Most Wanted.
The class also includes a Belgian woman named Sabine. Sabine seems like she’s trying very hard to copy what she thinks is the delivery of American standup comics. Most of her jokes start with “Did ya ever notice…?” or “What’s the deal with…?” Last week, she couldn’t think of a joke to tell, so Michael had to whisper one in her ear. This week, she read some material which she later admitted she had copied from Wanda Sykes. It makes me wonder if Wanda started in a class like this, reading Elaine Boosler’s material. Probably not.
Then there’s Amy. Last week we had to write a list of our weaknesses to use as jumping-off points for material. One of Amy’s began “I drink too much.”
One guy, whose name I don’t remember, brought a lot of material this week, almost all of it consisting of observations about fast food restaurants. There was a bit about El Pollo Loco (“How come they never give you a knife with your meal?”), one about Panda Express (“How come they never give you napkins?”) and one about McDonald’s (“Why do they ask if it’s for here to go? Why is that any of their business?”) I feel like all of his questions could be answered if he spent an afternoon working behind the counter of a Burger King. (Hey, if I know where the customer is eating, I’ll know whether to give them some napkins and a knife!)
Another girl ranted at length this week about the fashion faux pas that bug her. It would’ve been much better if any of us knew what the hell she was talking about (“Don’t people know there’s a difference between floods and capris?” … There is?!) and if she herself wasn’t wearing a zippered sweatshirt over a t-shirt. Mr. Blackwell’s a jerk, but he’s not a hypocrite. He DOES dress nice.
It doesn’t really matter that most of the material people bring in isn’t quite ready for the Laugh Shack. I don’t think any of these people really aspires to a standup comedy career, nor do I. We’re just there to have fun and meet interesting people.
At this point, we’ve definitely got that last one covered.