‘What She Said’ proves comedy can be taught

Lez Stand Up's class for comedians delivers a promising fresh set of funny women

Meyers-Briggs. The Rapture. A crush on Ursula the Sea Witch.

On Sunday, That’s What She Said—the graduate showcase for students of Lez Stand Up‘s first-ever comedy class—surveyed female and queer comic consciousness and debuted nine new faces. Now, without further ado, here are the three most promising comics from the bunch, and the rest can return to their day jobs.

Just kidding!

The most surprising thing about this showcase, other than the array of crayon colors streaked through various performers’ hair, was their consistently high comic competence for beginners. Alyssa Clayton, Kate Aguilar, Megan Hattie, Shannon Sales, Carolyn Main, Katie Piatt, Lisa Koluvek, Collin McFadyen, and Shilpa Joshi each delivered a respectable five-minute set, with natural gestures and viable joke structures and no obvious copycats. There really weren’t any duds in the bunch—and if that sounds like faint praise to you, then I know you haven’t watched a lot of open mics.

Lez Stand Up's lineup of new comedians aren't shy about their political leanings.

At Sunday’s That’s What She Said, Lez Stand Up’s lineup of new comedians worked a few political statements into their material. Photo provided by Aaron Michael Walker.

Having popped into many of Portland’s open mics over the last decade or so, from Suki’s Bar to Tonic Lounge to the Boiler Room, I’ve long since stopped expecting to laugh. Even at Helium Comedy, the national franchise that runs its weekly Tuesday open mics with the precision of a factory floor, most brand-new comics fall just short of funny, and many strain to perfect the art of audience connection.

There are a few recurring types of bad beginners: crude dudes who air their observational gripes like so many farts, relieving themselves but stinking up the room; hyper-normal underthinkers who figure that everything ordinary is, like, kinda funny; painfully-weird oversharers who assume anything that’s f*cked-up must be a gut-buster; overconfident fingergun-slingers and shy mumblers and mean drunks.

With so many ways to fail, a successful first set verges on a miracle. Hence, when I watch an open mic, I accept potential disaster as part of the fun. Like a sports spectator, I have either enough sympathy or sufficient schadenfreude to handle watching performers “die” up there. But on Sunday, as I watched as a group of newbies all “lived” and several even “killed,” I began to wonder if my critical faculties were still in tact. Were they really pulling this off? And—contrary to popular assumption—can comedy be taught?

There’s something inherently self-contradicting about Standup Comedy Class, in the same vein as various Schools of Rock. In one way, teaching these skills makes sense, as both performance styles are disciplines that theoretically get better with learned theory and applied practice. But on the other hand, they’re (cue an oxymoron) traditionally individualistic and rebellious. No one is supposed to be able to joke or rock like anyone else, and we want to believe that our heroes have sharpened their talents against the gritty whetstone of the cold hard world rather than snuggling under someone else’s wing. But while classes are relatively new, mentorship goes back as far as the forms. Someone’s daddy was a bluegrass musician. Someone’s uncle was in Vaudeville and taught him all the jokes and ropes. Now, as performer mentorship becomes more formal, it also gradually includes more groups. Rather than another apprentice-to-journeyman boys’ club, you get Rock Camp for Girls. You get Lez Stand Up.

Of course, women and non-gender-conformers who sign up for comedy class are bound to be a self-selecting group of funny bunnies, some of whom are already active in other humor forums. Alyssa Clayton’s already involved in sketch comedy at Curious, Megan Hattie has an XRAY FM broadcast called “Is Butter a Carb.” Carolyn Main (who, full disclosure, is a friend) is a seasoned cartoonist whose caricatures have appeared many times in Artslandia. It was hinted that Lisa Koluvek is “already famous,” though not stipulated for what (please feel free to comment).

Nevertheless, teachers Mel Heywood, Kirsten Kuppenbender, Laura Anne Whitley, Caitlin Weierhauser, Rebecca Waits, Jen Tam and Bri Pruett should be proud that their first batch of “LSU” grads proved this well-prepared for the standup stage.

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This group of Lez Stand Up grads will give an encore performance at Helium Comedy this Wednesday and, according to She Said hosts, intends to stick together for more shows.

One Response.

  1. Mel Heywood says:

    A.L. Adams what an amazing review! We are so so so so so proud of this group, and it was an incredible process to go through together. Quick correction: Wednesday’s show at Helium is the core Lez Stand Up Group, not this radical group of comedy graduates. They will be in attendance, but not performing. 🙂

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