Class takes a serious look at humor
So you're a laugh riot, or at least your relatives and mirror think so. But will an audience?
By DALIA WHEATT
Published January 6, 2006
The Patel Conservatory isn't just for kids. Sure, you'll find dozens of creative arts classes designed for ankle biters, but there's also a slew of classes for adults.
The spring session begins Monday and includes screenwriting, spoken word and digital video lab.
We spoke with Ranney, the instructor of Patel's Stand-Up Comedy Performance Lab, and a recent graduate of the class about what it takes to make it in the arts.
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Ranney will always remember his first time doing live standup, when his friends pushed him onto the stage.
"I did great," he said. "My second time was about three days later, and because of my first time, I was cocky and I just fell on my face."
Ranney, who has since shared a billing with notable comics Martin Lawrence and Bill Bellamy, learned an important lesson that night: It takes more than a sense of humor to succeed in comedy. People who are hilarious at home often bomb when faced with a paying audience.
"What they don't understand is that a lot of what they found funny was inside humor or based on situations that did not make them the storyteller," the 37-year-old said.
To shape budding comedians into hysterical storytellers, the Tampa resident began teaching standup comedy classes at the Patel Conservatory in 2004.
One of Ranney's former students, Neil Seufert, was surprised by how much comedy school felt like, well, school.
Seufert had taken standup classes in his native Chicago but quickly realized that his jokes about Chia Pets and Florida license plates wouldn't make the grade in Ranney's class, which dissected what's funny.
The dozen or so students discussed the economy of language. They watched videotapes of the great entertainers. They learned to be observant because "quiet people make the best comedians," Ranney said, noting that Richard Pryor, Robin Williams and Chris Rock weren't the class clowns; they simply took everything in.
Then there was homework. "We had to write jokes on different topics, like a current event joke and then maybe a joke about something that was funny about ourselves," said Seufert, 28. "A lot of it was about looking at who you are and trying to find your voice in comedy."
For Seufert, that means more improv and more making fun of himself - his bald head, his wacky personality.
Seufert's diligence is paying off. Inspired by Ranney's teachings in beginning and advanced standup classes, he recently moved back to Chicago to pursue his dream of doing comedy full time.
"In the end it's my destiny. So I don't really stress that it's taking me a long time to get to where I'm going to get to. It's going to happen," said Seufert, who goes by the stage name Neil O'Neill.
"I've been doing open mikes, and I'm starting next year with classes at Second City and Improv Olympics." Seufert estimates that he has done 50 to 75 standup performances. He also works at an afterschool program.
Even if you have no intention of becoming the next Richard Pryor, Seufert says comedy school is a great way to boost confidence and improve public speaking skills.
While he continues to hone his craft in the Windy City, Ranney aims to make Central Florida another comedic hot spot.
"I think the Tampa Bay area is the perfect place to be the hub for a new international festival. There's a lot of talent here. We have beautiful weather," he said.
He's developing a one-man show titled Cufflinks and Jolly Ranchers for Dummies. Check www.itsranney.com for updates. His Stand-Up Comedy Performance Lab at the Patel Conservatory is from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Mondays. The cost is $160.
[Last modified January 5, 2006, 08:50:08]
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