ANDERSON — It was week two of funnyman Eric Shorts’ stand-up comedy workshop at Hoosier Park Racing & Casino. A few of the aspiring comics, Laura Nichols from Elwood, Chris Maddy of Yorktown and Jarrod Whitesell from Dunkirk, were sitting around a table near the casino’s steakhouse restaurant waiting for the class to begin.
Once the four-week workshop ends they will have the opportunity to perform on stage at Hoosier Park’s new Terrace Showroom in a weekly show called “Drafts & Laughs,” which begins Jan. 9 at 8 p.m.
Each of the wannabee comics was expected to come to the night’s workshop with at least three jokes they had written for their routine. Laura Nicols admitted, “I’m not a writer. I’m not even a good speller.” Chris Muddy was thumbing through his typewritten pages, then he read aloud, “I saw this sign it said ‘Don’t park near the gas pump.’ How are you supposed to get gas?” Jarrod Whitesell told a funny joke that isn’t printable in a family newspaper but should hit the mark when he’s on stage.
Eighteen comedy hopefuls showed up for the first session; the second workshop ranks had shrunk to 13. Once the class began, Eric Shorts called on each of the participants to read aloud the jokes they had penned for their comedy debut. The tension in the room was palpable as Bruce Cable set a high bar for the rest of the would-be jokers.
Bruce, a former electronics teacher, had a great routine about how people respond to the fact that he is wheelchair bound. After offering a few tweaks to the monologue, Shorts explained why Bruce’s jokes worked so well. “The genesis of all comedy is truth. Your jokes have to be grounded in truth. The audience wants to know who you are, talk about your own experience and make it funny. Be fired up enough to say what’s on your mind. Believe me, after performing for 14 years I know something about comedy. Open up and talk about yourself.”
Shorts’ experience was evident as he critiqued each of the budding comics’ efforts. He was able to hone in like a laser on the potential of their funny ideas. He offered spot-on suggestions that helped explore a joke’s laugh-getting potential. The challenge for the fledgling humorists is to take Shorts’ recommendations, polish their jokes, and be able to perform the refined material in front of the class in next week’s workshop.
Before the class ended, Shorts shared a little known fact about the world of stand-up. He claimed that women make up only 10 percent of today’s working comics. “Women bring a different perspective. Since women comedians are a rare commodity, they don’t have to be as funny.” This is good news for the five females in the class. At 38 percent of the workshop, these lucky ladies are beating the odds.