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What's so funny?

Editor’s note: Al Jacobs is one of the main producers for ASSUW.

The stage lights illuminate subtle beams of dust particles. I walk out to greet the audience and welcome them to ASSUW, a fake acronym for the only stand-up comedy show on campus. I assure everyone that it’s going to be a good night, that they will laugh and enjoy themselves because talented comedians are about to perform.

The stage is lit in red and blue, shining on the comics but leaving the audience to sit in darkness. The atmosphere loosely resembles a comedy club, providing an environment where audience members can feel comfortable laughing at comics’ sometimes politically incorrect or off-kilter statements. Without lights on the crowd, chuckles remain anonymous because no one wants to be laughing at an impression of a stuttering existentialist alone.

Landon Whitbread, UW junior and ASSUW veteran, has been performing in local open mics and showcases for the past two years.

“ASSUW is a great platform for student comics to get an audience beyond open mics,” Whitbread said, adding that it also gives students in attendance an idea of what the Seattle scene is like.

“It’s not school; it’s not homework,” Whitbread said of why performing stand-up comedy appeals to him. “It’s a platform for emotional release. It stops me from going crazy.” The idea of emotional release is empowering, he said.

Whichever comic happens to be on stage controls the audience’s attention. In telling jokes, a comic has no choice but to share their personality with strangers, because the better an audience member can relate, the more inclined they are to laugh. Just like a hilarious friend casually cracking up a circle of friends, a charismatic comic who people can relate to isn’t a stranger, but instead an automatic friend. That’s the intimacy of live entertainment.

The Seattle comedy scene has burgeoned over the last few years, offering a performing arts niche splintered with tavern open mic nights and paid admission shows. The community centers around the different events, each attracting the same crowds of comics week in and week out.

Whitbread describes Seattle comedy as incredible.

“There’s a huge variety. There [are] spots for awkward comedy, there [are] spots for straightforward comedy. But all of the spots are welcoming to good comedy.”

Finding a pleasant room to work out new material is difficult, and consistently seeing the same comics testing and tweaking jokes is witnessing a sort of artistic progression. Settling on a steady onstage persona often takes years. However, establishing a comedic voice is usually indicative of understanding joke timing and being comfortable onstage.

Former UW student and current Seattle comic Albert Kirchner has been doing comedy for about eight months, getting on stage almost every day for the past six months.

“It’s probably the best lifestyle,” Kirchner said when asked why he does stand-up. “It’s like being a lazy rock star. I’ve always been slightly creative, and I’ve never had an outlet like writing or drawing. This is my artistic outlet.”

While Seattle comedy is small-scale in comparison to comedy in New York, Los Angeles, or even San Francisco, Kirchner admits that there is no pressure to jump into movies or television.

“It’s not nearly as cutthroat,” he said. “Artistically, I’m free to try different things out. I can do whatever I want.”

The allure for the audience is in relating to the material. “Every time in day-to-day life when you see something that’s odd, a stand-up comedian can put it into words,” Kirchner said. “It’s good to see your frustrations laid out by somebody.”

Astute observations of daily life elevate the comic to a position of social philosopher, kindly preaching on stage or atop a wooden stool.

“The audience is looking for somebody to make fun of life because life is weird,” Whitbread said.

The prevalence of stand-up comedy in such proximity to the UW is destined to attract potential comics to shake their fears and step on stage for the first time. I tell everyone who thinks they could do stand-up to get up because they might find it is immensely rewarding. It’s an art form that’s not meant to be pompous in the least, as everyone who steps onstage usually earns the audience’s respect whether they are funny or not. Audience members are rooting for each comic that goes up because they want to laugh. While some nights are more difficult than others, performing with confidence is usually a good start.

Reach reporter Al Jacobs at weekender@dailyuw.com.

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