Laugh Tracks: Tigers, Panthers polishing crafts for bigger laughs

By: Sarah Stortz

Inside a dimly lit club in Chicago, senior Grace Gubbrud firmly shakes the hand of the emcee and proceeds to make her way to the center of stage. After adjusting the microphone higher up to match her height, she starts off her routine with a story on how she almost got shot in the leg. As she progresses into her act and lets out the first punchline, smiles gradually begin to stretch across the faces of all of the audience members, and the room is emerged in laughter.

People with great senses of humor often carry a special talent of turning a dull moment into memories filled with laughter. The ability to consistently make people laugh just with their personality is a skill that’s nothing short of impressive.

Last summer, Gubbrud further developed her skills of comedy at Second City, a improvisational comedy enterprise that offers camps solely devoted to comedy. During her stay, Gubbrud learned the basics of improvisation, stand-up and emceeing. Gubbrud has attended this camp for the past three summers in order to help her pursue her dream of becoming a comedic actress.

“I’ve been involved with theater for a very long time, and I’ve always wanted to pursue it, but I tend to be casted as one of the comedic parts,” Gubbrud said. “A lot of people have always told me that I’m really good at that kind of stuff, so I figured I would just do comedy on top of it.”

Many of the faculty note special needs teacher Dan Hensing is another who’s especially humorous, but they don’t just laugh at the jokes he tells while they’re all having coffee together. Hensing takes his comedy skills to the next level by going up on a stage and performing stand-up comedy.

For the past five years, Hensing has made a hobby of traveling to various bars and making audience members laugh with his own style of humor. Hensing originally took up an interest in stand-up after being motivated by his friends to try it out. He was already going through a divorce at the time and lived alone in an apartment with not much to do, so he figured that he didn’t have anything to lose. “Even when I’m not being a comedian, I like to joke around with my friends and have a good time,” Hensing said, “so one of my friends who motivated me, who was actually [English teacher Matt] Klemesrud, told me that I should really try it, and that kind of challenged me to do an open mic.”

The first time he ever did stand-up was was at Lofty’s Bar in Evansdale. Although he had all of his material memorized, he still felt incredibly nervous, and after looking at the audience, his nerves only grew further. “When I got up there, I didn’t see anybody. It was just completely dark, and I couldn’t even see the people in front of me. You kind of get tunnel vision when you’re first up there and you’re nervous and you just want it to go well.”

Despite this, Hensing still strived to make the audience members laugh. Sure enough, his confidence as a comedian continued to prosper over time. “Now, when I get up on stage, I can see people in the crowd, and I can see them laughing,” Hensing said. “I’m much more comfortable now going in front of others.”

As Hensing demonstrated with his stand-up career, a main key on pulling off a joke is confidence.

Similarly, UNI professor Doug Shaw regularly displays his comedic skills by leading an improv troupe called Half-Masted. Shaw has led this group for 12 years and has learned from his experience that in order to pull it off, comedians need to take huge risk while telling a joke.

“I always tell people it’s so much harder to do than what it looks,” Shaw said. “You think you just get up there, but the whole thing is to be comfortable in front of others. If you’re not extremely confident, it can show.”

Often times, comedians take influence from other notable comedians and learn what makes their style work. Hensing stated that one of his most favorite comedians is Don Rickles. “I think he’s really funny because he’s really quick on his feet. He’s really quick-witted, and I’ve always liked that type of comedian,” Hensing said. “There are a lot of styles to comedy, though. Some are heavy on the set-up and then the joke. Others are very ad-libbed and crazy, thinking that everything around them is a joke.”

When it comes to learning, others take a much more formal take on comedy in order to truly understand it. In fact, Shaw notes there are many different types of humor theories. A few examples of comedy theory include the laughter of superiority, the laughter of recognition, the laughter of surprise, the laughter of contrast and the laughter of delight.

Out of all the theories, Shaw said that his personal favorite is the laughter of delight. “You’re basically laughing because you’re seeing something that just makes you so happy to be alive,” he said.

Some colleges in the United States go as far as offering a comedy major that people can study. One of the colleges that Gubbrud is looking into has a major devoted to comedy, and she is planning to study it herself if she decides to attend.

While comedy is something that can definitely be taught, it is a skill that requires a large amount of practice, especially with timing. As Shaw explained, “If you want to make people laugh, you have to realize that context is very important. There’s a difference between things that are funny on a first date, things that are funny at a funeral and things that are funny when you’re in front of people who are paying to see you.”

Timing is also a very important factor when it comes to telling a good joke. One of the most well known rules of humor that many comedians always stress is “comedy equals tragedy plus time.”

To put it in perspective, “It’s perfectly fun and safe now to make jokes about pirates, but back in the day, pirates were a serious danger. They would destroy economies and murder loved ones,” Shaw explained. “Now, they’re funny, and that’s because of time. We no longer feel the threat of piracy.”

However, a similar type of joke would not apply well to a recent tragedy and would usually come off as completely inappropriate. If not followed, this can lead to one of the most devastating moments not just for comedians, but for anyone: telling a joke and nobody laughs at it.

Shaw has experienced this kind of withdrawal before, but he knows how to get past it by maintaining his confident.

“If a joke doesn’t work, the audience will only turn on you if you learn not to get yourself rattled. You learn to let it not phase you, to keep that self-confidence,” Shaw said. “The way you can describe my comedy is that I hit the target eventually, but I waste a lot of bullets.”

Even if a joke fails multiple times, there’s still an appreciation over somebody trying to be funny because of the sentimental value that people keep with comedy.

“Really, anybody likes to make people laugh. I think it’s almost a natural human thing,” Shaw said. “It’s an extension to the fact that most humans innately like to relieve pain. We want to make people feel better.”

While comedy certainly has the power to help lighten the mood and make people feel better, it can just as well bring social awareness into uncomfortable subject matters.

“I think comedy can often reveal truths to people that merely yelling at them cannot,” Shaw said. “For example, when reports came out about Bill Cosby raping women, not many people paid attention to it. What finally brought it to the national attention was when it was mentioned in somebody’s comedy act, and the next day, it was in the headlines. Was that comedy making people feel better? No, but somehow that truth came across when this guy was mocking people for not caring about it.”

Whether it’s to spread an important message or just bringing a smile out of someone, countless numbers of people strive to become funnier themselves. Hensing advises people like this to take more chances and try to see any kind of humor in situations. “I’ve noticed that this current generation is not quite as social,” Hensing said. “Whenever I throw stuff out there, they’re not as respondant.”

Gubbrud has certainly taken several chances just being on stage.

After her three minutes on stage were almost up, she ended her stand up by concluding with a story on the one time she drove a burek car. She gave one final nod to the audience and walked towards the staircase, having the distant sound of applause follow her with each step down.

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