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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

September 23, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Ithaca College’s comedy clubs unite for professional success

By the end of his July 24 stand-up comedy set, junior Ryan Ciecwisz had the audience waiting on his every word. He was telling the story of death of his childhood pet, a hermit crab named Silvery — who was named, of course, after the color of his shell. The room, which happened to be the prestigious Gotham Comedy Club in New York City, was silent as he built to the punchline:

“[My mother] looked at me, and she was trying to comfort me,” Ciecwisz said. “She took a long moment before she finally said, ‘It’s OK, Ryan. He didn’t love you back.’”

Ciecwisz is the president of IC Comedy Club, one of Ithaca College’s four comedy clubs. Each focuses on a different aspect of performance humor and adds to a vibrant and diverse comedy scene at the college. IC Stand Up concentrates on comedy in which performers deliver a series of jokes they’ve prepared in advance. The Acahti Players is an improv troupe that produces hour-long comedic scenes on the spot. IC Comedy Club combines these two forms of comedy in larger general meetings, while IC Sketch Club produces short, funny skits in the style of “Saturday Night Live.”

Though the clubs meet and perform individually, many members belong to one or more of the groups, forming a community of collegiate comedians. But junior James Dellasala, co-president of IC Stand Up, said this network among the clubs began to form only recently.

According to Dellasala, and to many other past and present members of the college’s comedy scene, it used to be that IC Comedy Club viewed IC Stand Up and Acahti as more exclusive because they required auditions. Then, slowly, members of IC Comedy Club began to audition for the other groups.

“Four years ago, and perhaps even before that, Comedy Club and Stand Up Club stayed to themselves and didn’t really interact,” he said. “Two years ago, when I was a freshman, that’s when people from Comedy Club started auditioning for Stand Up Club. There’s no longer any kind of conflict between us.”

To senior Rebecca Caplan, president of IC Sketch Club, the past separation among the clubs was almost a joke itself.

“I mean, when we formed Sketch a couple of years ago, we did make shirts that said ‘Not Acahti’ on them, but that, obviously, was a joke, too,” she said. “There was a sort of amped-up idea that there’s a rivalry when there’s sort of not. Now, I couldn’t tell you one person who’s only involved in one club.”

Ciecwisz said the increased camaraderie among the clubs is a product of the ambitions of its members, many of whom aspire to be professional stand-up comics, comedic writers or producers of funny shows and movies.

“I think for me, and for a lot of other people too, it’s about trying to get as much stage time as possible,” Ciecwisz said. “When you’re out in the real world, it’s more of a kind of guess and check. You’ll see their reaction, and then you’ll get to know what’s going on in their heads afterwards. Figuring that stuff now, it’s something that I and a lot of people try to fine-tune because we know it’s going to be a lot harder outside of college.”

Ciecwisz said the college offers courses in comedy, including Humorous Writing, as well as a special topics course in Spring 2014 called The Intersection of Politics and Comedy that was guest-taught by Seth Meyers. Kate Zasowski, junior and co-president of IC Stand Up, said belonging to multiple comedy clubs offers
educational benefits of its own.

“It’s really good to be trained in as many forms of comedy as you can because they really do help you out,” she said. “Say you’re doing stand-up and someone’s heckling you: That’s a good time when you can use improv. If you’re doing an improv scene, stand-up comes in handy because it gives you confidence on your own.”

Zasowski demonstrated this technique herself at Gotham Comedy Club this summer, when she used her improv training to add a last-minute joke roasting her fellow comedian’s earlier sets.

“Shoutout to the whitebread couple sitting next to me who’ve been engaging in foreplay this whole show,” she said. “I’m glad hearing about James Dellasala having sex has put you so in the mood.”

Having improv training can also help when a stand-up set goes awry. Co-president of Achati senior Tim Heintz used his improv training after flubbing a particularly prominent section of his routine. After yelling loudly to imitate his sleep-talking friend and stumbling slightly over the words, he blinked several times and said, “He said it a lot more clearly than I did.” Then, he connected back to an earlier joke about summer camp by saying, “Keep in mind, I’ve been out in the sun all day.”

Additionally, participating in more than one club allows members to reap the successes of all the groups. For example, at IC Stand Up’s comedy showcase at Gotham Comedy Club over the summer, members from all four of the college’s comedy clubs were represented, including the presidents of IC Sketch and IC Comedy Club. Senior Jake Winslow, co-president of Acahti, said having a strong and diverse comedy scene not only benefits the members of the club, but also its audience members.

“[Comedy] is really popular now, and there’s definitely a want and a need for it on campus,” he said. “There are some problems with mental health on Ithaca College’s campus … A lot of people come to comedy events just to vent. It also helps people deal with and reflect on what’s going on in the world and in society around them. There’s a lot going on with elections and with Black Lives Matter, so these comedy performances are kind of a social barometer for what’s going on on campus and in the world.”

Ciecwicz said many comedians use current events as the main backbone of their material, either by mocking them or by pointing out their ironic truths. In his own set at Gotham Comedy Club, he received equal parts cheers and laughter after one of his favorite one-liners:

“People say “‘Murica” because in the time it takes to say A-merica, a gay couple might get married.”

Zasowski said performing comedy allows comedians not only to come to terms with what’s going on in the world, but take control of what’s going on in their lives.

“I found that comedy is a really good way to take control of things that you don’t like that are going on in your life, or things that you don’t like about yourself,” she said. “You kind of take the
power back.”

In her set at Gotham, Zasowski got some of her biggest laughs when she did just that: She took power back from one of her perceived flaws.

“There’s a woman in Florida who got a third boob surgically attached,” Zasowski said. “She said it was to keep men from flirting with her, which is really a huge confidence boost: She needs three boobs to keep away men, and I can do it with zero!”

Mary Ford can be reached at mford1@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @therealmaryford