Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Comedy Club

"Mr. Leiken! Mr. Leiken!"

A group of students rush up breathlessly, eyes gleaming with mischief. "Mr. Leiken," one of them gushes, "would you please sponsor our club?"

I look them over, I've seen them in the hallway, but I barely know these kids. Why the hell would anyone want me to sponsor a club?

Our school has a number of clubs: A dance club, a drama club, a chess club, a bible club, a gay and straight alliance club, a students run-LA club, a poetry club, a school spirit club, a leadership club, but to get a club you have to have a group of willing students and a teacher who is willing to sponsor them.

There is no way I am going to sponsor a club. Clubs require a tremendous amount of time and energy - organization, planning, an agenda. I briefly consider how to politely turn them down when Andy cuts me off.

"It's a comedy club."

"And we want you to run it," Brenda chimes in, "because you're funny."

My teeth clench into a rictis grin. Damn! They know my secret weakness! They told me I'm funny! Damn them! Damn them to hell!

How can I turn down the chance to teach the finer points of farce, the sublime of satire, the joy of a well told joke? I have become "Comic Book Guy", for now I can point out the difference between why King Arthur being covered in crap in The Holy Grail is humorous but Eddie Murphy farting in The Nutty Professor is not.

Running a comedy club is not work, it is a religious cause, a chance to train disciples in the essence, the wit, the gospel of humor. I cannot, will not turn them down. This is a crusade.

"Alright." I respond laconically. "How did you hear about me?"

The students gape. "Everyone knows about you. You're the pirate teacher!"

This is true. I am the pirate teacher.

The first day we meet in another teacher's room. We listen to George Lopez, Dane Cook, and Dave Chapelle, analyze how their routines work and why they are funny.

"Humor," I lecture, "is based on one simple concept. Surprise. If you can surprise your audience with something unexpected, you can invoke a laugh."

Next week we decide to meet again. This time the jokes on me. No one shows up.

I spot Andy in the hallway, he falls over himself apologizing. "I'm sorry Mr. Leiken, we forgot!"

I sadly shake my head, tell him I'm not interested in running a club if no one is willing to put in the time.

A few days later I receive a note in my mailbox:

Dear Mr. Leiken,

We miss you. Come back to us. We beg you to forgive us. We shall grovel at your feet. We need your funnies. We are not worthy. WE are worms. We are lower than worms. WE are awaiting your guru wisdom to teach us the way of the grasshopper.

We have four new people and a fifth grader.
We use him as a baseline for our intelligence.

Damn them! Damn them to hell! They know my other secret weakness! My ego and vanity!

A week later we meet again. This time we read aloud a famous Abbot and Costello skit: "Who's on First?" The students are blown away. This is funny mister, where did you get this? You are amazing.

Eyes afire, I gather my comedic soldiers.

In the public school system, the half-educated man over 30 is king.

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