TICKLING FUNNY BONES
Lynn Ruth Miller
Good taste and humor
Are a contradiction in terms.
“I give you the tools to be funny,” said Kurtis Matthews, co-founder of The San Francisco Comedy College. “Whatever it is you do, I’ll help you do it better.”
And he does just that in a series of five-week courses Monday nights in Sacramento, Wednesday nights in San Jose and Thursday nights in San Francisco. His classes are filled with people who want to make other people laugh, but not for the same reasons. There are executives who care about to pepping up their company reports, authors who want to improve their book readings, actors who need better comedic timing and people who like to act funny. “This class is a big playground,” he tells his students. “Everyone is different. That’s why none of my comics sound the same. But all of them are all serious about not being taken seriously.”
Matthews is absolutely certain he can teach anyone to be funny. He is one of only two teachers in the country who do process-based comedy training. He does his training in groups and teaches members of the group to interact with one another. They learn to start with an idea, anything that is on their minds, and turn it into a joke. “A comedian is someone who says something and it’s funny,” he said. “We give you the techniques you need to do that.”
For example, start with the sentence: ”I woke up this morning and ran five miles. . . .”
The unspoken assumption is that you ran to stay healthy. But what if you finished the sentence thus:” I ran five miles to get my teeth. I forgot them at the dentist’s office.”
Or: “I woke up this morning and ran five miles but his wife ran faster.”
If anyone knows how to make people laugh, Matthews does. He began his career at the Comedy Store in Hollywood in 1984 and has a long history of working with comic greats, comedians who have drinking problems and divas who dance. “People use laughter as a defense mechanism,” he said. “It makes others like them and everyone needs to be liked to survive.”
Indeed, every social setting could be improved with a little comic relief. Suppose you are at a cocktail party and you don’t know anyone there. If you walk in and wait for someone to talk to you, you’ll get nothing out of the party but a few free drinks. However if you walk in the door yelling, “Mother! You can’t hide from me! Put that drink down or I’ll get the stomach pump.” You will be noticed and who knows what can happen after that? You might meet the guy who pushes you to the top of the corporate ladder or you might meet the guy who pushes you out the window. Either way, you wont be bored.
It is no secret that if you can make a guy laugh at anything but himself, he will love you. “Forget everything you’ve learned in the real world about wanting to be respected,” said Matthews. “In my class, you’re going to have to learn to be bad to be good.”
Once you are Matthews’ student, you are under his tutelage for life. “This is a cradle to grave comedy school,” he says. “Networking is the most important way to get your work out there. You become part of a big funny family.”
He is so sure he can teach his comedians to be the best there is that he offers a money back guarantee to his students. To this date, no one ever has asked for a refund. His school is a co-op run by students, professional comedians and theater personnel, all dedicated to spreading humor to every corner of the planet. The staff is experienced in stand-up, improv, and public speaking. “Kurtis teaches honest, organic comedy,” says student Johnny Steele. “Those other guys teach the kind of stand up that’ll have you on the road every night drinking ‘til all hours and stumbling into strange motel rooms.”
How does Matthews transform ordinary mortals into star comedians? Well, first of all he doesn’t send them out to perform until they are comfortable in front of an audience. The class rehearses the joke making process together and each would-be comic can test the reaction of the group to their funny or not so funny remarks. “We believe in educating you before putting you in front of a group,” says Matthews. “These classes provide a safe space to risk and fail before you get to the comedy venues. Comedy starts in the mind. Once you understand how the mind works, your jokes will work, too.”
On the first night of class, each person identifies himself and explains his reasons for enrolling in Comedy College. Some want to add sparkle to their speeches; others want to use comedy in their writing and deep down they all want a chance to get up there in front of a crowd and make everyone laugh. By the time they graduate from The San Francisco Comedy College, they will have practiced doing just that and will learn how to create humor. “You start with reality,” said Matthews. “A good comic has a filter in his mind that re-interprets that reality and makes it funny. “
All jokes go from bad to worse. “My cousin is a nerd and won the lottery,” isn’t nearly as funny as “My cousin dropped his lottery ticket down the toilet. The next day, he heard he had the winning number. That’ll teach him to flush the toilet.”
No one can tell you how to be funny. The purpose of Matthew’s class is to show you many different principles and techniques and let you choose the ones that work for you. All jokes are about preconceived notions. The cardinal rule in creating a funny is to take those assumptions and mess them up without creating fear, pain or confusion. No one will laugh when you say, “My Aunt Bessie fell down a manhole and died.”
They WILL laugh if you say, “My Aunt Bessie fell down a manhole and swam into the men’s room at The Palace Hotel. It took all day to mop up the floor.”
By the time you finish Matthews’ five week Technique Workshop you will have mastered material generation techniques, storytelling and improvisation. You will learn how to build audience rapport and deal with stage fright while you experiment to find the style that suits your own personality and reflects your unique take on life.
“Not everyone will think you are funny,” says Matthews. “All comedy starts from where you are. I’ll teach you how to do it standing up.”
And the hundreds of students who have graduated from his classes and still are with him, can’t be wrong.
Or can they?
Comedy, like sodomy,
is an unnatural act
You can contact Matthews and get more information about the Comedy College at 415 921 2051 or on line at www.sfcomedycollege.com