Empower Teenage Girls by Teaching Them Stand-up Comedy
“I’m not just a nerd,” says 13-year-old Thea with glasses, speaking on stage into a microphone. “I am a geek too.” The audience laughs.
She is speaking at a workshop hosted by Gold Comedy , a New York-based startup that teaches girls the art of stand-up. Difference from others is a common theme for jokes that students write themselves, drawing material from their life experiences. They managed to find funny in everything: from insecurity of the body to Islam and buying clothes with their mother.
Whether it’s the goal of becoming a professional comedian, a Snapchat star, or simply disarming a bully one day, learning about comedy can be an incredible confidence-building for those in the trenches of teenage and teenage life. “Comedy is power,” explains Gold Comedy founder Lynn Harris, veteran stand-up comic book veteran and author (and former Tony Harding doppelganger is “a long story,” she writes in her bio ). Growing up as a bookish boy, Harris gravitated towards humor early on: “Realizing on some level that I could not compete in traditional popularity, I let my stupid flag flutter.”
Harris wants girls to know that what they might be ashamed of, what makes them unique, or maybe even weird, is exactly what makes them funny. And when they possess these qualities – or “double” them, as she likes to say – they put themselves in a new, amazing center of attention that they must define.
Anyone can take a Golden Comedy course (“well, for example, even natural white guys named Norm are more than welcome,” Harris says), but the curriculum was created to help fill the vacuum of women in comedy. “Girls still understand that comedy is what guys do, and girls laugh,” says Harris. “I want to give the girls the opportunity to amplify their voices – literally with the microphone.”
The workshop, currently offered as a $ 19 online course , delves into the mechanics of comedy by teaching students how to structure a set and use a wrench in a joke (take, for example, the “understate wrench” in this episode of Harry Shendling: “I broke up with my girlfriend. She moved in with another guy, and I draw the line”). There are tips on when to pause, when to add physical movement, and how to calm your nerves while performing (imagine talking to your best friend while on stage). For inspiration, students watch YouTube videos and learn the tricks of famous comedians – the measured, deadpan pace of Tiga Notaro and how Ellen DeGeneres starts her jokes with simple premises and builds from there.
Eighteen-year-old Brianna Allen, who attended the workshop, told me that when she first took to the stage, she was terrified. “But as soon as I spoke and let it flow, it was amazing,” she says. As part of her kit, she remembered how she and her mother exchanged new clothes in the store: “Mom, would you wear that?” “Of course, dear!” She immediately returned the item.
Allen says he notices that there are different standards for men and women. “If you swear, people look at you and think, ‘This is not feminine,’” she says. “But if a guy does it, it has a different effect.” She says she learns not to worry about what other people think, and comedy helps her with that.
Ultimately, Harris says that by giving people comedy skills, she wants to help change the face of comedy. “More variety in comedy makes comedy better for everyone,” she says. “And the best comedy – breaking stereotypes, broadening one’s horizons, crushing enormous power – makes us all better people. I really believe in it. “
Here are a few things you can do to help kids and teens find their voice in comedy:
Help them find what sets them apart (because what sets them apart from others makes them funny)
There is a myth that you need to be a certain “type” to be successful in comedy. That you have to be loud, naturally charismatic and always in the spotlight. So people who are not that kind of creatures are trying to invent a new comedic personality, but it is not authentic, and the audience can tell it. The workshop teaches children that “your personality is who you already are. “Just imagine a new version of this. “What you don’t like about yourself may actually be your personality, or at least a window into it,” explains the online course. “Let’s say you said, ‘I wish I was less timid.’ Guess what: your comedy work doesn’t have to be any less timid! Your comedic job is to be timid! Talk about timidity. To tell us and show us on stage what it means to be timid. Timid is funny when you write jokes about it! So listen to this inner voice, and then say: “Voice, what you criticize me is actually potentially the funniest thing about me.”
Identify Topics That Elicit the Most Emotional Response
Before the workshop, students fill out prompts such as, “I hate _____. I love _____. Annoys me _____. I’m afraid _____. I’m confused by ______. “Then in class, they talk about what triggered their most intuitive responses, what prompted them to write more. Harris found that the things that often lead to the best material generate the strongest feelings. Together, they focus on what gives the student unique possession of the topic. Harris recalls Tess, a girl in class who started out with class just kind of complaining about her annoying dog. “After a little digging, we found it really funny that she was the only one in her family of six, who doesn’t like dogs. Bingo. Anyone can write about annoying dogs, but only Tess can write about it . “
Read the headlines of the day with them
A great way for kids and teens to stay on top of current events is to learn to understand them. Here’s an exercise from the Gold Comedy website:
X thing happened. If this happened to me / in my life OR if I did it …
Example: [An insidious politician or powerful person of his choice] is lying and is not being punished. If my mother found out that I was lying about something like this [she / I would] … ”.
Write 10 of them a day. Don’t try to be funny. Make them funny when they do, which will be about 1% of the time. Practice is what matters. As you do this more and more, you will see funny things and make associations faster, and your percentage will go up.
If students are wondering if they really should “go there” as in a joke, the answer might be. “I’ve always said that you can write a joke on any topic ,” says Harris. “September 11, rape, segway. Important: who is the joke on? In fact, it is less fun to make fun of someone less powerful than you and – yes – inherently less fun to deliberately / potentially make the audience uncomfortable with an “offensive” joke. This is not your magazine. They pay. Be generous. “
Harris adds that there is an exception for teenagers: “You can completely throw your little brother or sister under the bus,” she says.
Encourage them to keep going.
Most of the material your aspiring comedian will write will not be funny, and that’s okay. Comics should be practiced, corrected, and practiced again in front of the mirror, in front of friends, in front of grandma. Some local comedy clubs allow people under the age of 18 to perform on certain nights with an open microphone – call and inquire. “Even the most seasoned comics … practice,” the course explains. “They need to make sure that what seems funny to people in their head is actually funny to people in the audience. They need to tweak it, play it and make it funnier. It’s all part of the process, and now it’s also part of your process. “