February 15, 2021

USC Comedy Presents: Can Comedy be Taught

It’s 2021, and a weary audience in desperate need of a break tuned into the fifth USC’s Comedy Festival held March 9th- 11th. Hosted virtually on Zoom to accommodate for the COVID-19 circumstances, the festival was kicked off with the “Can Comedy be Taught” panel. After being introduced by Dean Elizabeth Daley and USC Comedy legend and Interim Production Chair Barnett Kellman, Moderator Wayne Federman from the School of Dramatic Arts. The comedic talents of Upright Citizens Brigade founding member Matt Besser, renowned actress and producer Lisa Kudrow, and stand up comedian Demetri Martin gathered to discuss a question plaguing SCA students: can someone be taught to be funny?

Fear not dear students, all of our panelists heartily agreed that yes, comedy can in fact be taught. The panel dove into their individual paths as students, some taking classes while others chose to be self taught. Lisa opened up about her own experiences in improv classes and stressed the importance of committing to your characters and scenes. “If you commit to it, it’s so much more interesting to watch and chances are someone will find you funny.” Lisa and Matt talked about the importance of connection with other actors in the room and the invaluable lessons that can be learned while observing classmates. While they bemoaned the well known saying that improv classes will help you “find your clown”, our guests were forced to agree that classes will help you find your comedic voice. Matt perfectly summed up the topic by stating “You have to do comedy to learn comedy.”

Lisa turned the tables by asking questions to the stand up comedians in the room. Demetri and Matt gave us an inside look at the process of a stand up comedian as they try to craft their jokes. Demetri joked about the self involved nature of building a performance. He explained the self reflection that must constantly be involved and how to be your own best critic. Matt chimed in about how his comedy classes influenced his own work and how getting started in Chicago was the perfect launch point for him and his career.

Not to be outdone, the lads questioned Lisa about her time on the beloved sitcom Friends. Lisa explained the nerve wracking audition process of auditioning in front of 20 + executives and the attitude that helped her land the role that launched her career. Lisa stated that she found her peace by ignoring the throng of eyes in the room which allowed her to give her memorable performance of Phoebe. Audiences were given insights about the filming of the show like it’s 6 hour filming process, the collaborative attitude towards improving bits, and how the studio audience reacted to the same bits over and over again on filming days. Lisa finished off by giving sitcom actors a bit of advice: “Perform for the audience at home, not the tired one in the stands.”

The first event of 2021’s Comedy Fest wrapped up with a lovely Q & A that answered student submitted questions about how to be an international comedian, finding the humor in dark subjects, and several other thought provoking questions. 

To watch the recording of the panel, please visit the USC Comedy Youtube page to laugh along with our panelists.