Smile Politely

C-U Comedy and new horizons

Champaign-Urbana’s stand-up comedy scene is experiencing a growth spurt. After years of building momentum in the downtown Champaign area, local comedians are bringing the laughs closer to the U of I’s campus with a weekly showcase in Urbana’s Canopy Club.

Any U of I student looking for their dose of humor or who are willing to take the stage themselves, the trek to a comedy venue would have once seemed like an intergalactic voyage. The Campus Comedy Showcase is bringing this piece of our city’s culture right to their front door every Tuesday night.

While the free event has only been running for about a month, signups for the open mic are already filled through the next three weeks, with each show bringing in consistently big crowds. Robel Arega, an electrical engineering student who has been heavily involved with the campus improv and sketch comedy troupes has begun trying his hand at stand-up, and recently hosted Canopy’s showcase:

I think it’s awesome that there’s finally something this close to campus. I feel like students don’t get exposed to the stand-up scene enough despite us living in a city where it’s so popular. I’ve done about three or four of these shows now and every time we pull in big crowds and they always have a good time.

The comedy scene branching out into new territory would not have been possible without the commitment and enthusiasm of local acts. Jesse Tuttle, a comedian who has been doing comedy in the area for the past five years, has taken on the task of organizing the weekly show. I had a chance to interview Jesse and talk about what makes our area’s stand-up scene stand out from the rest:

I think there’s a stigma with some open mics since some are ran improperly. I’ve been to a lot of open mics in other places where it’s like, “yea there’s just a microphone and we don’t even really try. People are gonna go up there and tell stolen jokes.” As soon as people see that, well why should they be interested? A lot of open mics have a car-crash mentality where they want to see somebody fail miserably. I can’t stomach watching somebody do that. If the person running it doesn’t care then why should the crowd?

The inaccurate yet conventional wisdom surrounding open mics says that the inexperienced comedians will surely fail and the audience will squirm in their seats with discomfort. This idea stems from the fact that most people are familiar with the type of show that will allow anyone to come in off the street, take the stage, and drone on about whatever they want. Tuttle gave me his opinion on shows that are structured that way:

I’ve never been a big fan of that because a lot of times you’ll get 10-12 people who show up who have never done it before and it’s a train wreck from beginning to end. No one’s good, people leave within five acts because the people on stage are so offensive. There’s no rule. We try to limit our show a little more.

The Campus Comedy Showcase makes a strong effort to change it’s audience’s mind about what an open mic should be. Tuttle explained to me how he makes a point to give young comedians the chance to gain on-stage experience while still providing a quality show:

I do all of my signups in advance which I think helps a lot. It helps me filter in guys and girls who I’ve seen at other showcase shows and I know they have an idea of how to structure a set. Every week we have like 10-12 people go up, you get 5-6 minutes. We have first timers, I work in a lot of the regulars that I know will do well, it’s a big mix. Anybody can get out there when I have a spot available.

A professionally run show like this not only benefits the audience, but gives local comics an opportunity to prove themselves in a setting that would be difficult to find in any other city. In my conversation with Arega, he told me why the Campus Comedy Showcase seemed like more of a step forward when compared to open mics he has done in the past.

I was definitely nervous since it was a bigger venue than I’m used to, but it never really affected my set. There were other comics who had done this before and could help keep the crowd on our side. From a comedian’s standpoint it’s great experience because even though a few of us hadn’t done much stand-up in the past, we got to work with people who had and play a part in a real show.

The Campus Comedy Showcase if every Tuesday night at 9 p.m., followed by Piano Man at 10:30 p.m.. To sign up for stage time email [email protected]. Comedians from all backgrounds are encouraged to sign up; if you’re on the fence about taking the stage for the first time, Tuttle offers some sage advice:

Do it. I always say what’s the worst that can happen?

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