You’re Funny, But Where Do You Start?

We’ve done a lot of talk lately about how Chicago is the place to be if you want to explore a career in comedy (as if you needed us to tell you that). Let’s say you’re new in town, or maybe you’ve lived here your whole life, either way, you want to try your hand at getting going in Chicago’s wild world of comedy. What do you do? Where do you go? There is one thing making these decisions tougher to make: options.

Are you the brave type? Want to jump right into stand-up? There are hundreds of open mics throughout Chicago every week of every month just begging for you to take your shot.

I spoke to Austin Sheaffer, who did just that, about his experience going feet first into comedy. “Becoming friends with Meredith Kachel is probably the best decision I ever made in my long list of life decisions,” Austin explained. “We’ve spent a lot of time over the past year or so talking about comedy and how we could be good at it. We think we’re hilarious and finally convinced one another to just do it. I can’t speak for her but I definitely leaned on her for the push to make it happen especially leading up to my first time on stage. She pushed me to the realization that maybe all this was a possibility and that I should go for it. I then scheduled my first trip to the open mic with my birthday party so that all my friends and family would be there leaving me no excuse to back down.” After dropping out of medical school and deciding to just go for it, Austin, scared shitless with the microphone pressed way too close to his lips, walked up in front of everyone at The Edge Comedy Club and gave it all he had.

Austin during his first open mic. Isn't he adorable??

If you’re a little more reserved than Austin and want to try to hone your craft before you get on stage, there’s another way. Chicago is the comedy Mecca, right? There’s bound to be people here who are willing to teach you how to make other people laugh.  Plenty of places around town offer an array of classes (for a fee, of course): Second City, Zanies, ComedySportz, The Annoyance Theatre, and the iO Theatre are just a few of the places you can register to get trained by people who most likely know more than you do.

Recent Chicago transplant Ted Vogel-Wilson (AKA Baby Gaga of Le Roy) has been bitten by the comedy bug recently as well. Aside from his gig as a dancer at Le Roy shows, Ted, being “scared shitless” to do an open mic, is taking a slower route into comedy. Being 25 and still not knowing what the hell he’s doing for the rest of his life, Ted decided to just go for it, even if it isn’t the type of education that guarantees job security after graduation (but what is, these days?).

“To this point, I am still scared shitless to do an open mic,” says Ted. “I am still doing the back-up dancer thing, which is still a lot of fun, and the guys in the group let me basically do whatever I want. I’ve taken a comedy writing class at Second City and plan on taking improv classes soon at either Second City or iO.”

Here kitty kitty. Ted in his Catwoman costume.

Another student of comedy happens to be a member of The Runt’s staff, Natalie Alvarado. Having taken improv classes at Second City and being very pleased with the experience, Natalie said, “Without my comedy education, I would be lost when it comes to knowing what makes good comedy, and how to pursue creating something on the spot that reaches the audience enough to make them laugh. Having such talented teachers and dedicated classmates completely took away anything I was afraid of.”

But it’s not exactly “us vs. them,” “classes vs. open mics.” Austin even plans to take classes when he has the chance. “I want to take classes, real hard,” Austin said. One form of beginning isn’t better than the other; it’s all about what’s best for you in your pursuit.

Austin, Ted, and Natalie each told me something similar when I asked them what they would suggest someone does to get started – just go for it. Whether you’re courageous like Austin, ready to just jump on stage and see what you can do, or you want to take it slow like Natalie and Ted, studying your way into the game, figure out what you want to do and attack. Write down things you think are funny. Turn them into jokes. Find a way to turn your life into a joke. ¤¤

Want to try an open mic? They’re all over, but here’s a link that lists open mics throughout Chicago every night of the week (but you might want to check first, open mics come and go).

Want to take a class? Here’s a few links to follow.

Enjoy your quest, and good luck!

-Brian Speer, The Runt

PS – Want to see everything Austin, Ted, and Natalie had to say? Check out the comments section for this post!

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3 Responses to You’re Funny, But Where Do You Start?

  1. Austin Sheaffer

    Q: What made you decide you wanted to start doing comedy?
    A: Well a vast majority of my time growing up was spent watching old reruns of SNL (before E! bought them – bastards) and episode after episode of Comedy Central Presents. Then, after I had seen them a few times I’d start quoting them to anyone that would listen purely to make them laugh. Eventually I realized that there really isn’t much of a market for a cover-comic and started thinking that maybe I could make up some of my own jokes.

    I think the ultimate deciding factor was last winter when I officially announced that I would no longer be pursuing a medical degree. Stupid? Absolutely. Now I have thousands of dollars in student loans for a molecular biology degree I’ll never use. At least my parents laughed when I told them. Clearly I’m a natural.

    Q: When did you realize that you were actually going to do something about it (taking classes or doing an open mic)?
    A: Becoming friends with Meredith Kachel is probably the best decision I ever made in my long list of life decisions. We’ve spend a lot of time over the past year or so talking about comedy and how we could be good at it. We think we’re hilarious and finally convinced one another to just do it. I can’t speak for her but I definitely leaned on her for the push to make it happen especially leading up to my first time on stage. She pushed me to the realization that maybe all this was a possibility and that I should go for it.

    I then scheduled my first trip to the open mic with my birthday party so that all my friends and family would be there leaving me no excuse to back down.

    Q: What have you done and where (classes, open mics)?
    A: I’ve pretty much stuck to the open mics when I’m performing by myself. Standup is a good ass time even if what you’re slingin’ isn’t. Then I also write sketches etc with my favorite funny people Meredith Kachel, Tedward Vogel-Wilson and Jack Duszynski.

    The people over at the Edge Comedy Club were kind enough to give me 8 minutes a few months ago. That’s been my highlight so far – cha ching.

    Q: Would you say that the way you did it/are doing it is working best for you?
    A: It’s doing something. Honestly though, it’s getting me comfortable with my decision. I have mountains to climb both with myself and the comedy world. Giant mountains…like moon mountains. I wish I could just get breast implants and dye my hair blonde that way I could get my sexy little foot in the “getting noticed” door. Alas, I guess I have to stick with trying to be funny.

    Q: Would you suggest someone else go about it a different way? Or how would you tell someone else to get started?
    A: Open mics. It’s really all you have as a standup. Every time you find one, go to it. It’s really the only way to practice. For instance, had I not hit an open mic at my beginning I never would have known to not put your face right on the microphone when you talk. It’s super cute and you look all shy and reserved when you’re talking about your ex-girlfriend’s blowjobs while your parents are in the audience, but it makes it hard to understand what you’re saying. Lesson learned.

    Q: Do you plan on doing anything other than you’ve already done (taking different classes, trying improv instead of stand-up or vice versa, just trying different open mics)?
    A: I wanna take classes, real hard. I’d also like to try as many different styles of comedy as possible. They’re all fun and I think each one helps with all the others. Gotta keep thinking funny. What’s that bullshit saying? “Your brain is a muscle, you have to exercise it” or something stupid like that. Anyway, to use it here, I feel that the more you’re thinking of funny things etc, the easier it gets. Being smart is a major advantage in comedy and to quote my father, “well if you’re not going to be smart in medicine, at least you can be smart telling jokes.” Now to turn my jokes into dollars.

  2. Ted Vogel-Wilson

    Q: What made you decide you wanted to start doing comedy?
    A: A lot of things, but mostly I have no idea what I want to do with my life and that kind of thinking got me worried since I am already 25. I know, technically, I’m young and I do think like a 12 year old most of the time, but I decided to try and do something I know I love. I love to make people laugh, and I’ve been trying my hardest to do that pretty much every chance I get. I was living in the Quad Cities which was getting rather boring and I figured I live pretty close to the “comedy capital of the world” so I might as well try to get funny.

    Q: When did you realize that you were actually going to do something about it (taking classes or doing an open mic)?
    A: Some of my friends have a rap group that started off as a silly pet project of theirs, and I had told them,”if you ever have an actual show, I will be your back-up dancer.” At the time, I just wanted to help them out, but they started to do actual shows and I have been their back-up dancer ever since. A friend of mine, who is going to school for drama, told me after one of our shows, I have really good stage presence. I took that compliment and ran with it I guess.

    Q: What have you done and where (classes, open mics)?
    A: To this point, I am still scared shitless to do an open mic. I am still doing the back-up dancer thing, which is still a lot of fun, and the guys in the group let me basically do whatever I want. I’ve taken a comedy writing class at Second City and plan on taking improv classes soon at either SC or IO. I’ve also filmed a couple sketches and have been getting together with a group of friends writing comedy and bouncing ideas off one another.

    Q: Would you say that the way you did it/are doing it is working best for you?
    A: I think the class I took helped me focus and try and get some ideas on paper. When there are no deadlines, its really hard to decided when something is good enough, and the class made me work on something in order to learn from it. I also try and do my own kind of studying, and by studying I mean I watch/read/listen to as much about comedy as I can. I like reading interviews and biographies of comedians and there are really good podcasts interviewing comedians as well (i.e.:WTF with Marc Maron, Nerdist, Sound of Young America).

    Q: Would you suggest someone else go about it a different way? Or how would you tell someone else to get started?
    A: Yes, I would suggest having way more money than me. If you don’t have money, I’d say have a lot more confidence than I do. If that doesn’t help, I’d suggest being less lazy than me. If you can do any of these things, I’m pretty sure you’d be better off.

    Q: Do you plan on doing anything other than you’ve already done (taking different classes, trying improv instead of stand-up or vice versa, just trying different open mics)?
    A:Get yourself out there, and make yourself completely comfortable with whatever criticism comes your way, accept it and find out what you do best.

  3. Natalie Alvarado

    Q: What made you decide you wanted to start doing comedy?
    A: I didn’t. It came my way out of having to complete a school project. I was in a business school class that focused on soft skills (public speaking, networking, interviewing), and for our final project we had to do something that scared us. None of the aforementioned scared me, so I dove into improv. I had avoided it all my life, and now, in order to get an A, I was exploring this form of comedy. I stuck with it when I found the people I now improvise with, who have helped me not only grow as an improviser and comedienne, but as a person.

    Q: When did you realize that you were actually going to do something about it (taking classes or doing an open mic)?
    A: Like I said before, it was kind of thrown my way. Taking an improv class was my project. I guess the question would then be when did I decide to start pursuing this on my own. After my first improv class I was hooked. I had started the Second City program, and figured that I should finish it if I wanted to get any better at improvisation. I am not looking at finishing another program at the Annoyance.

    Q: What have you done and where (classes, open mics)?
    A: I did a year of Second City, do biweekly coachings with my improv group, and have performed some student shows. I have a “real show” coming up in December…

    Q: Would you say that the way you did it/are doing it is working best for you?
    A: Definitely. Without my comedy education, I would be lost when it comes to knowing what makes good comedy, and how to pursue creating something on the spot that reaches the audience enough to make them laugh. Having such talented teachers and dedicated classmates completely took away anything I was afraid of.

    Q: Would you suggest someone else go about it a different way? Or how would you tell someone else to get started?
    A: I would tell someone to do it the way they see fit. Classes work ell for some people but not others. Different venues have different styles. It’s really your call. Do your research. See what appeals to you.

    Q: Do you plan on doing anything other than you’ve already done (taking different classes, trying improv instead of stand-up or vice versa, just trying different open mics)?
    A: I plan on taking private vocal lessons to improve my singing voice, as well as body movement/physical comedy classes, maybe throw in a dance class here or there. Whatever I can afford that seems fun is good by me.

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