Folks with Jokes presents: Thankfulla’ Sh*t
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February 25, 2017
November 7, 2016
UMass stand-up comedy group brings laughter to campus one show at a time
Music blasts over the murmur of conversation as about 80 students sit in the darkness of a half-filled Herter auditorium on a Thursday night, staring at a chalkboard that reads “Thankfulla’ Shit” as they wait for the Folks with Jokes stand-up comedy show to begin.
Folks with Jokes, a group of stand-up comedians at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, had their most recent performance Nov. 10 in which each comedian took on a Thanksgiving-themed topic for their bit such as, “skanksgiving,” “danksgiving,” “spanksgiving” and “wanksgiving.”
Members of the comedy group sat in the front couple rows, laughing hysterically with the crowd at one another’s performances as they each took a turn on stage telling stories, doing impersonations and delivering jokes. Besides the holiday theme, their humor covered a range of topics such as the election, lost loves, drunken blackouts, Harry Potter and the hatred of pamphlet-hander-outers.
Folks with Jokes was founded in November 2015 by Zack Manyak and Na’ama Celine. The group has 19 members who share a love for comedy despite their differing educational pursuits including communication, journalism, English and psychology to name a few. The group typically performs every other Thursday night at 8 p.m. in Herter Auditorium 231 with rehearsals every Sunday to prepare for their shows.
Manyak, a senior at UMass, told a story about ending up in his freshman residence hall bathroom with nothing on but a sock over his genitals after eating an entire mason jar of Everclear-soaked gummy bears.
Manyak had no comedic background before coming to college but noticed that there were no stand-up comedy groups on campus and wanted to change that.
“Anyone can do it,” Manyak said. “You just need to be confident and not care what others think of you.”
“The comedians draw inspiration for material from their own lives and from the world around them, making funny bits out of the stupid stuff they do, the unfortunate things that happen to them and the observations they make about society. They add details and punchlines to make it funnier but most of the joke is in the delivery,” said member Alexa Rockwell.
How the comedians handle themselves on stage will make or break the performance, Rockwell explained, because sometimes a story isn’t hilarious in itself but the way it’s told is.
Rockwell shared a story about her younger self laughing along to her brother’s comment, “bill toes gram,” though she had no clue what that meant. After repeating that phrase hundreds of times in different voices and tones, it finally occurred to her years later that Bill, her grandmother’s boyfriend, had his fingers cut off in a snowmobiling accident which they replaced with his toes. Enough said.
“It’s a gamble really, you just get up there and hope they laugh at your jokes,” said Rockwell. “While it can be nerve-wracking being on stage in front of a crowd, hoping your attempt at humor does not fall short, confidence is key for getting over the fear and having fun with it.”
While stand-up comedy is a solo act, being in a group like Folks with Jokes provides a supportive environment that eases the nerves and helps the individual comedians flourish. Each member spends time on their own preparing and practicing their material, then tests it out in front of the other members during the group’s weekly two-hour rehearsals. They offer one another constructive feedback on what works and what doesn’t, improving each other’s jokes and stage presence while maintaining a fun, positive energy that makes the process enjoyable.
“The group has mostly lucked out with audiences that are considerate and appreciative of the hard work they have put in and the risk they are taking by putting themselves out there,” Rockwell said.
However, when a joke doesn’t get the response the comedian was hoping for, it’s often beneficial to acknowledge it, which can ease the awkwardness and might even prompt some laughter — even if it’s a pity laugh, that’s probably better than nothing.
Rachel Ornitz discussed in her bit the visible deflation in the mood of the campus and surrounding area on Wednesday after finding out that Donald Trump was elected. Ornitz said that when she went to “order [her] diarrhea” at Moe’s, she did not receive the obnoxiously-friendly greeting the establishment is known for, but rather encountered a worker who told her it didn’t matter that she was short five cents because everyone’s going to die soon anyway.
“Show the racist orange Cheeto in office that pussies grab back,” Ornitz said, provoking a roar of cheering from the audience.
During her bit, Ornitz threw a good-humored jab at fellow comedian Julia Caudle for her grandmother-ish sweater, teasing her that there’s probably a moth on the back of it. When it was her turn, Caudle said Ornitz beat her to the sweater joke and then continued with the self-deprecating humor, saying that she almost unwillingly joined the Marines because of her inability to say no to the recruiter and her only savior was the fact that she has asthma.
Caudle then talked about her dislike for the “vegan propaganda” that’s passed out on campus, saying that if they really cared about an environmentally-friendly lifestyle as their eating habits suggest, they wouldn’t waste so many trees on flyers. Caudle says her sister “came out as a vegan” to their family, joking that it’s probably just a college phase.
Tim Childs joked about a current issue in his bit, saying that if he were to start a fraternity it would be called the “Drought House,” in which there would be no running water and the frat brothers would be too upset over the drought to get with girls. Instead they’d all cry and collect their tears to make pasta. He continued naming unmentionable substances that would be boiled down to create water, erupting laughter and gags from the audience.
Childs told the story of the one time in his life he blacked out from drinking, during which he bought more than $40 worth of M&M’s in Time Square.
“I’m not a big drinker, but I do like a Four Loko with dinner,” Childs said, triggering laughs and bad memories for any audience member who’s had experiences with this convenient store death-potion that only freshmen in high school are willing to tolerate.
Some members of the group hope to continue their involvement in the world of comedy even after their time in Folks with Jokes is over, in their career paths or as a hobby.
“I think that this group is a good stepping stone for life regardless of whether or not you pursue comedy,” Manyak said. “It helps with public speaking and helps you find the humor in life. A valuable skill to have is being able to laugh at yourself.”
Folks with Jokes has two more shows this semester, one Thursday, Dec. 1 called “Laughter: Take two every hour” and another Dec. 15, both in Herter 231 at 8 p.m.
Email Alex at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @pigeon_alex.