As the spotlight shines on junior Cliff Clinton, his heart races with excitement and the crowd fades into darkness. For three minutes, he will lampoon himself just for the laughs.
Clinton and seven other students represented Chapman against 32 colleges nationwide to be dubbed America’s funniest school. The comics competed for the national title and a chance to perform in TWIX Presents: TBS Just For Laughs, a comedy festival in Chicago.
The team competed against Loyola Marymount University March 22 in a stand-up comedy faceoff for Rooftop Comedy’s fourth annual National College Comedy Competition (NCCC), sponsored by TBS, and lost April 7 after two days of online voting.
For Chapman’s eight contestants, the competition helped them grow as performers and learn how to poke fun of themselves while making audiences laugh. For them, stand-up is a creative way to interact with others while voicing their opinions.
“I kind of know I look like an idiot,” said Clinton, screenwriting major and comic. “I’m an awkward person, but stand-up is a way to channel that.”
This is Chapman’s first year participating in the competition, which junior Jeff Topolski, screenwriting major, brought to campus. Topolski transferred from Colorado State University, where he participated in last year’s competition.
The competition began in February with talent searches and auditions at the 32 participating universities, said Jennifer Corbett, director of events for Rooftop Comedy.
Eleven students auditioned for the team in Beckman Hall, and a student audience chose eight to represent Chapman. Once the team was finalized, they were scheduled to compete against regional rival LMU. There are eight teams competing in Eastern, Western, Midwestern and Southern regional brackets.
After regional rivals competed in a live face-off, the audience and three judges chose four members from each team to advance. In the next round, the four participants collected votes online, and the school with the most votes advanced.
For these eight comics, comedy is a creative outlet and a form of personal expression.
“Stand-up is a relief for a lot of people,” said Shane McDonald, junior film production major. “It is for me … to get on stage and poke fun of [things] that usually bother me during the day.”
Each comic uses different methods to prepare, often writing his own material and sharing it with others for feedback. Team members give one another advice, and some, such as Clinton, have had previous experience from other shows and open mic nights on campus.
Matt Gallenstein, sophomore screen-acting and English double major, has done stand-up six or seven times. Gallenstein said he benefits from his teammates’ input.
“[Working with other people] was always really uncomfortable for me,” he said. “But this time it helped a lot because the team would talk about my word choice, timing and which jokes I should use.”
Gallenstein said his ritual before every performance is nausea and fright, but he thrives off the rush of performing stand-up.
Regardless of his nerves, Gallenstein was one of the four comics chosen from Chapman’s team to advance to the next round of the competition. Gallenstein was surprised when he heard his name called to continue after competing against LMU’s team, he said.
“I had some of the more dark material, and I don’t know if people were ready for it. I didn’t hear many laughs – they must have thought I was funny,” he said.
Although the competition is ending early, Clinton is grateful for the experience and friends he’s made through the process, he said. Win or lose, he still finds his team hilarious.
“It’s tough, but it’s not a reflection of us being funny or not, but of LMU having more people voting for them,” Clinton said.