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'Funny' doesn't just happen

Coup de Comedy festival will help budding comedians learn the rules, which then can be broken (à la Monty Python).

May 04, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • Improv Revolution member Audrey Goodman improvs a scene as she rehearses for upcoming UC Irvine comedy festival.
Improv Revolution member Audrey Goodman improvs a scene… (Don Leach, Daily…)

Those who attend Marc Warzecha's workshop at UC Irvine this week had better come prepared for serious work.

They're about to learn how to be funny.

Warzecha, a veteran TV actor and writer-director with the Second City, is among the professional comedians who will lead seminars in the Claire Trevor School of the Arts' first-ever Coup de Comedy Festival. Over four days on campus, live comedy performances will alternate with workshops on "The Art of Clowning," "The Tao of Stand-up" and other topics that sound, well, kind of humorous in that academic phrasing.

Warzecha, whose sketch-writing seminar will take place Saturday morning at the Little Theatre, is convinced that there's a method to madness. Yes, comedy troupes like Monty Python have played with traditional formulas over the years — blending sketches together and eschewing regular punchlines. But even those groups, Warzecha said, had to master the molds before they could break them.

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So what are those rules? Well, for Warzecha, a course in Comedy Writing 101 would cover the basics of setting a scene and then building on it. In other words, step one is to establish a premise; step two is to introduce a joke; step three is to keep raising that joke to new heights.

"I often liken sketch writing to sports, actually," Warzecha said. "If you're going to play a game of football, you need to understand the rules of the game. You can't just start throwing a football and running in any direction. And that's what sketch writing can feel like when you don't know the structure."

Among the people who learned that structure is Joel Veenstra, the Claire Trevor School's associate head of stage management, who took a class from Warzecha when the latter worked at the Second City in Hollywood. Last year, Veenstra joined the UCI faculty and became advisor of the student comedy troupe Improv Revolution, which organized the Coup de Comedy Festival.

Veenstra, a seasoned improv actor in Los Angeles and elsewhere, will perform once during the festival, taking part in a Saturday evening reunion with first-year members of Improv Revolution. Otherwise, he'll stay behind the scenes as students perform, introduce events and emcee panel discussions. On opening night, Improv Revolution will join another campus comedy troupe, Live Nude People (With Clothes On), for a first joint performance.

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