There are a lot of different motivations that drive otherwise sane people out of the safety of the darkness and into the knee-buckling spotlight of a standup-comedy stage:
A daredevil spirit.
A desire to conquer an overwhelming fear of public speaking.
Losing a bet.
Wanting a once-and-for-all answer to a very simple question: Am I as funny as I think I am?
A deep-seated yearning for affection and acceptance prompted by feelings of rejection developed during a hug-deprived childhood.
They're all valid and fairly common reasons. But here's one rationale for taking the scary step into standup that you don't often hear:
Because it's worth 30 per cent of your course grade.
That, however, is at least part of what's pushing the 32 comedy-writing students who will take the stage on Sunday and Monday at Rumor's Comedy Club during Red River College's annual CreCommedy Nights (8 p.m.; tickets $10 at Rumor's).
And what they don't know, as they grapple with the fear and struggle to perfect the three minutes of comedy they're required to perform, is that the payoff for having stepped behind the microphone will extend far beyond the Rumor's stage.
"It started out as just a comedy-writing course, then it progressed into performance after a year or two," says Kenton Larsen, who teaches advertising, public relations and the optional comedy writing course in Red River's creative communications department, and also happens to be a veteran of Winnipeg's standup scene. "I was operating from the concept that after you do standup comedy, everything else in life seems easier.
"It has certainly been true in my own experience; many of the skills I use here at the school, as an instructor, dealing with clients, making presentations -- they're all so much easier having done standup. Basically, you don't have to be a standup comedian to get a lot out of doing standup comedy."
Larsen, who's in his 10th year of teaching at RRC, introduced comedy into the CreComm curriculum eight years ago. At first, the performance portion was a classroom exercise, but after a couple of years, the showcase was moved into a more ambitious live-performance venue -- first, the now-defunct Charleswood Hotel's beverage room, then the King's Head Pub, and then, last year, the authentic standup-stage setting at Rumor's.
The growing popularity of Larsen's yuk-it-up course is demonstrated by the fact the CreCommedy showcase has had to expand to two nights this year, with 16 students making their live-comedy debut each night.
Despite the fact they've known for a full year -- since they chose the comedy course as one of their options -- that they would eventually wind up onstage, these are nervous days for the students.
"I'm sh-- scared, to be honest," says Amy Tuckett, whose Rumor's stage debut is less than a week away. "I even feel nauseous just thinking about it. I've been working on my standup, testing things out on friends; I wrote a couple of pages, and have been trying to memorize some of the bits to see what might work best that night.
"We've got a rehearsal class (this) week, so I'll be able to test out some of my stuff on my classmates then, which will be both good and nerve-racking."
The comedy performance is graded, and represents 30 per cent of the course mark, but Larsen gives his students every opportunity to succeed.
"I give them 10 marks just for walking out on the stage," he explains. "Even if they walk out in front of the mike and drop dead, they'll still get that 10 marks. Ten per cent is my reading of how they did, in terms of performance and material, and 10 per cent is from surveys I distribute to random people in the audience."
Success in the CreCommedy spotlight, however, can last far beyond that single night onstage. Several of Larsen's students, including high-profile local comics Dan Verville and Cara Lytwyn, have continued to perform comedy long after completing their CreComm studies.
"I remember getting the assignment, which was to write five minutes of standup," says Verville, now a regular host at Rumor's who also performs at corporate events and tours the region frequently with other local comics. "I was totally down for that, and then we found out that the only way you pass this portion of the course was to actually perform it in front of people in a live setting. That was the scariest part for everybody, because you're throwing yourself out there with untested material and you have no idea what you're getting into."
Once he hit the stage on that night in 2007, however, Verville was hooked, and five years later, he's a full-time advertising account executive who spends as many nights as he can doing standup comedy.
"Once you get up there and you actually pull it off, it's pretty great," he says. "As soon as I walked offstage that night, I told myself it was one of the scariest things I'd ever done, and I wanted to do it again and again.
"And from there, it became sort of a hobby that turned into a passion, and now it's kind of a job, in a sense. I'm really happy I did it."
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Featuring Red River College comedy-writing students
óè Sunday and Monday, 8 p.m.
óè Rumor's Comedy Club
óè Tickets $10 at Rumor's