From its inception in 2009, ComedyNormative has held a special place in Vassar’s comedy scene. In addition to being the only co-ed stand-up troupe, its lack of auditions speaks to its loose, open atmosphere.
The Vassar Student Association (VSA) recently certified the troupe after five years of unofficial meetings huddled in the cramped Davision basement.
“Its mission has been to provide an open environment for student comedians looking to workshop and perform stand-up comedy, wrote President Jean-Luc Bouchard ’14 in an emailed statement.
ComedyNormative meetings maintain an inclusive, easy-going vibe. All attendees are free to offer criticism and workshop jokes. “We pride ourselves on our open atmosphere, because we like to think that the best comedy possible comes not from an early selective process of auditions, but from continuous workshopping and a multitude of opinions,” Bouchard wrote.
Bouchard has been involved with ComedyNormative since his first semester at Vassar.
“I never performed stand-up comedy prior to coming to Vassar, but have always loved watching, reading, and writing comedy and so I knew I wanted to try it out in college. Stand-up comedy appeals to me over sketch and improv because it is solely centered around one singular comic,” noted Bouchard.
Additionally, ComedyNormative is the only comedy group on campus that performs solely stand-up comedy. “While some Indecent Exposure members perform excellent stand-up comedy at their shows, they also perform sketch comedy as well. ComedyNormative is a co-ed group dedicated to just stand-up comedy,” Bouchard explained.
Every week, the group meets in the basement of Davison where individuals present jokes and material they are working on. The rest of the group will then provide their feedback.
“Basically the rule of ComedyNormative is, if you have five minutes of material, you can perform at the show,” said ComedyNormative member Harris Gordon ’15.
“One of the most common notes given out is get to the punch line quicker, which is when we spend too much time setting up the joke instead of getting to the joke.”
Once the show draws near, the members of ComedyNormative refine their sets. The day before the show, all group members will present their full sets to receive final feedback from the rest of the group.
The VSA granted ComedyNormative its Preliminary Org. Status in the spring of 2013. By December, the group qualified for full organization status.
In an emailed statement, Vice President Noah Rocklin ’14 wrote, “I was part of the group that drafted our constitution, which was an interesting look into what we really stood for as a group, but a little disappointing because we were told in no uncertain terms that we couldn’t put any jokes in it.”
Gordon was initially drawn to ComedyNormative because of the supportive community. “Anyone can show up, bring material and it gets critiqued and workshopped in one of the safest non-judgmental environments I’ve ever been in. The vibe that ComedyNormative provides makes it so much easier to find my comedic voice,” wrote Gordon.
Bouchard chose stand-up because, unlike other forms of comedy, it is utterly up to the solo performer to captivate the audience. “It sounds selfish and egocentric, and in a way it is, but there’s something amazing about being solely responsible for your own material, your own performance, for having complete control and presence over the stage and your audience. It’s the closest thing a civilian can have to feeling like a political leader, captivating an audience by yourself for a few minutes.”
Comedians draw their material from some simple component parts. Frank James ’16 wrote, “I mostly draw my routine from personal experiences, situations I find myself in, or things I’m interested in. I actually have a several-page long Word document of ideas that come to me when I’m walking around, watching Netflix, in the shower, etc.”
Lindsay Lucido ’16 discussed her pre-performance routine. “I pick my favorite jokes, or jokes that flow well together. We then bring the lists to meetings, and we go through them, and give each other feedback. I also tell some of my jokes to family and friends so I can get the opinion of a non-comedian, since most people in the audience don’t do stand-up.”
While the jokes may come from similar places, each member participates for different reasons. James wrote, “I do stand up because of the thrill—it’s terrifying standing alone in front of a room full of people who expect you to entertain them, but so rewarding when you succeed.”
Rocklin wrote, “Knowing that you made a bunch of people laugh is a great feeling. I joined ComedyNormative for that opportunity, and because I knew that even though only one of us is on stage at a time, workshopping our jokes and helping each other rehearse means we’re all in this together.”