Four local Boston comedians took to the Chum’s stage last Tuesday with material written by Brandeis students enrolled in Writing for Television, bringing laughter and awe to an audience of their peers.
Prof. Marc Weinberg (ENG) arranged for five comedians to perform—one to host the night’s event and four to present the work of his students. “I told students to imagine they had been hired on a late-night television show as screenwriters,” Weinberg explained. The students of the English course Writing for Television learned about comedy, researched the comedian they were assigned to write for and created the material that Brett Johnson, Suzi Berlin, Wes Hazard and Anthony Scibelli ’09 performed.
The host, Will Smalley, brought much energy to the night. Smalley was described by The Boston Globe as having the “normal guy likability of Mike Birbiglia” and can be found performing this Friday at The Comedy Studio in Harvard Square. He made many jokes about being gay and coming out, managing to shock the audience who was just beginning to ease into his comedic style. He also transitioned into telling the story of saving a life recently, by performing the Heimlich, giving the audience a matter-of-fact account of the incident with his very simple observations. His straightforward and charming sense of humor ushered in the main monologues with excitement and energy.
The first comedian to present the class’ material was Johnson, who can be found performing the third Friday of each month at Pavement Coffeehouse in Boston. Johnson’s monologue covered a wide range of material, from the open relationship that he’s in, to drinking and smoking, to his strict religious upbringing. He tossed out some one-liners and told some longer stories, managing to thoroughly entertain the audience with the content that was written for him.
Perhaps his best joke was his self-deprecating line on his high school naivete, remarking, “I grew up thinking that fellatio was an Italian dessert.” His routine was very personal, and he very thoughtfully blended his own sense of humor with the direction given by his student group.
Next up was Berlin, an energetic, competitive and fun performer. Because students were told to write for late-night comedy, Berlin approached her routine as she would a talk show. She blew through numerous eclectic topics such as being single, using a GPS and what to wear for Halloween. Each joke ended with a notecard flung across the stage. Berlin’s best moment was surely the line, “Election is my favorite time of the rear,” which she mistakenly repeated three times before finally correcting herself to “year.” Although Berlin seemed least comfortable performing the jokes of others, her energy and demeanor put a fun spin on her monologue.
Third came Hazard, a comic, writer and radio host as well as one of Boston’s “Five Best Comedians to Watch” according to The Boston Globe. He described his book, “Questions for Terrible People,” as “Cards Against Humanity but in book form.” Hazard joked about being the only black comedian and therefore making the night’s performers 20 percent black, a statistic five times greater than the diversity we see on campus.
Hazard went to Boston College, and made many jokes about the differences between the schools. His best moments were his recommendation of following Andrew Flagel’s Twitter account and his experience at Comic-Con dressing in cosplay as Gandalf, which was exclusively referred to as “black Gandalf.” He ended by handing out samples of his artwork, which take various elements from comics and come together to form fun and vibrant collages.
Finally, Scibelli came to the stage in a special finale. He is now a successful comedian whose show “The Anthony Scibelli Web Series” won the LA film award for best web series. His comedy was tailored around his return to Brandeis and the changes he sees, as well as the classic Brandeis stereotypes that will always get a rise out of our audience members.
After settling into his monologue, he made some jokes that were obviously prepared by his writing team, and managed to get much laughter from what wouldn’t always elicit such a response. His writing team certainly planned for Scibelli’s charming and unimposing cheesy humor. He finally ended by reading through the notes he was given almost verbatim, and managed to hold the crowd’s captivation throughout.
Yuni Hahn ’19 was the group leader for Johnson’s team. She and her group watched videos to prepare and to understand the person for whom they were writing the script.
“Trying to speak from the comedian’s voice is tough because you don’t know them,” said Hahn, “but this was the perfect opportunity to discover a new form of expression.” Hahn had taken improv classes at Upright Citizens Brigade in New York but otherwise was simply exploring a new creative writing course. By the end of the semester, she noted that students are going to be responsible for writing their own pilot to a show.
Students were only able to meet with their comedian once, and otherwise communicated via email. They had a few classes on how to make jokes and how to develop material; they focused on what makes them laugh, what scares them, what worries them, as well as any current events. You could hear the influences of various class discussions on their jokes; for example, the repeated references to Tinder and Spotify joining together or the repeated references to the election. The separation of the comedians from their content provided a fun and interesting spin on stand-up performance and was certainly a challenge overcome. The event was a tremendous success, bringing in a larger crowd than usual for Chum’s, and the students from the featured course seemed thrilled to have their jokes presented onstage to their peers.