Freshman team delivers jokes, jokes, jokes

by Beacon Staff • April 25, 2007

But can it help turn lives around?

Emerson freshmen Matt Lieberman and Seth Inglis think it can. The duo arranged to teach a weekly stand-up comedy workshop at St.,Laughter-it lifts the soul, brightens a room and is contagious to all but the most stubborn.

But can it help turn lives around?

Emerson freshmen Matt Lieberman and Seth Inglis think it can. The duo arranged to teach a weekly stand-up comedy workshop at St. Francis House, the nearby homeless day shelter on Boylston Street.

"We're teaching them how to take their own experiences and turn them into stand-up comedy, to make things positive and to learn how to express themselves," said Lieberman, an interactive media major.

Inglis is not a comedian, but as an acting major, he has spent a lot of time on stage and has picked up many of the necessary skills.

Lieberman, however, does stand-up shows on his own but is also part of Inside Joke, an informal think tank of Emerson comedians.

The St. Francis class is made up of a core group of three men who attend every week, with a few others who duck in and out. Aside from working on joke material, the class teaches improvisation, how to gauge an audience, and stage presence-skills that can be used in the real world of comedy.

The workshop helps to build confidence, an essential aspect of comedy and a great characteristic of someone looking to overcome a past of homelessness and lawlessness.

The idea started as an assignment for the leadership class Movers and Shakers, in which students travel around Boston to talk with different kinds of leaders. Among the "movers and shakers" the class met with were Mass. state representative Stephen Canessa, Dennis Rogers of the Boston Private Industry Council and the Reverend Martin McLee of the Union United Methodist Church on Columbus Avenue in Boston.

When Lieberman and Inglis took the tour of St. Francis and spoke with Next Step director Tony Rello during a class trip, the pair said they became inspired.

"Our tour guide spoke about how they hold workshops for the Moving Ahead program, and for the Next Step program, and if anybody ever came up with a workshop they could probably get it started," Lieberman said. "And I don't know why, but it just sort of suddenly clicked for me that somebody should start a stand-up comedy workshop."

"I think what Matt and Seth are doing is remarkable," said professor Emily Kearns, Ph.D., who teaches Movers and Shakers. "They have taken a field trip experience and run with it, building relationships with staff and residents of St. Francis House, sharing their skills and passion and inciting both in their program's participants. To me, that's what education is about - to have the theoretical and the experiential inform and interrogate one another."

Freshman writing for film and television major Kevin Eis also belongs to Inside Joke, and agreed to help teach the workshop.

"It's just another project," Eis said. "I'm willing to do basically anything involving comedy."

Lieberman and Inglis then found one more person willing to work with them-freshman film major Amanda Newcomb, also a student in Movers and Shakers. Newcomb is making a documentary about the comedy class to possibly submit to film festivals. It is clear the students have taken the project far out of the classroom.

"When Matt and Seth explained in class what they were doing, I thought it was really interesting because you don't normally associate comedy with homelessness," Newcomb said. "There was a lot to document even outside of the class. In the class, you have to talk about leadership and how it relates to leadership and I think it goes so much deeper than that. We could totally take it to another level next year."

Rello helped the four Emersonians get started by replacing a mandatory relapse prevention program with the introduction to comedy workshop. He then left Lieberman, Inglis, Eis and Newcomb with several recovering drug addicts, many who were also ex-convicts.

"It was very interesting. About 25 people came and about 15 of them were pissed to be there," Eis said. "It was very intimidating at first, but we just stuck it through and ignored that fact. By the end of the night, it turned out to be a very successful class."

One of the three homeless men who returned regularly to the workshop, Kevin, will be performing tonight in the Comedy Vault at Remington's.

The restaurant is located on Boylston Street between the two Emerson dorms.

"Kevin really wants to do this, he wants to be a stand-up comedian," Lieberman said. "He wants it to be his profession, so he's really dedicated. I have no doubt that if he really wants it he can go there."

The students said the workshop will continue next year, perhaps becoming even larger.

"I think everybody deserves a chance to have other people relate to them," Lieberman reflected. "Everybody deserves a chance to get on stage, to be treated like everybody else and to get that gratification."