Amid COVID-19 surges and Intersession classes, comedy remains an entertaining relief from life’s many stressors. To celebrate the end of Intersession, the students of Professor Adam Ruben’s comedy class each showcased their unique stand-up routines via Zoom on Jan. 21. Despite hosting the event on Zoom for the first time, the students’ punchlines and witty comments drew hearty laughs and cheers from the online crowd.
Ruben has been teaching the Intersession course The Stand-Up Comic in Society since 2005. Before the new normal, crowds would fill the entire Shriver Hall to watch their peers perform at the class’s culminating event, with the number of attendees averaging between 600 to 1,000 people.
However, Ruben lamented that this audience size would now be considered a superspreader event as he opened the show.
“This is obviously not ideal, but kudos to the students who rolled with it anyway,” he said. “We used to look forward to that crowd size, but now it makes me nervous. Hopefully, next year. We’re going to run out of the Greek alphabet at some point.”
Ruben’s students, all of whom had never performed stand-up comedy before, perfected their four-minute sets over the three weeks of Intersession. He noted that he prepared his students differently for a Zoom performance in an interview with The News-Letter.
“Some of the things you need to consider in-person really don’t apply, such as how to use the microphone or using your body movements,” he said. “There's not that much you can do because if you step away from your computer, you're not audible anymore. I did remind the class to be more conscious about controlling their facial expressions.”
He praised his students for their enthusiasm, emphasizing his goal of providing them with a fulfilling and worthwhile experience even on Zoom.
To make the Zoom environment more conducive for stand-up comedy, only a group of 30 selected students were unmuted throughout the show, while the rest of the audience members remained muted. This allowed the students to hear and interact with the unmuted attendees while reducing any potentially distracting sounds during the performance.
Lina Tewala, a senior from Egypt, kicked off the show by sharing personal anecdotes about the struggles of having a baby voice when having to speak for her immigrant parents on the phone. She reenacted her attempts to sound like her father, emphasizing the difficulties of getting taken seriously even when discussing issues like health insurance. She closed her set by considering the advantages of a baby voice, such as being liked by children, before voicing her realization that they may just consider her one of them.
Senior Jason Kurlander carried on the event by discussing the faulty algorithms of his targeted ads. He expressed his confusion at being advertised work gloves given his pastimes of choice.
“You guys don’t understand the incredibly toxic relationship I’ve had with butter popcorn,” he said. “I grew up with three sisters... I’ve seen all of the Barbie movies, which to be fair are pretty good movies.”
He continued to talk about his involvement in his middle school play and drew a lot of laughs for describing his school’s censorship of the word “feeling” in one of High School Musical’s songs, which was deemed too “raunchy.”
Kurlander’s set was followed by freshman Tory Hu, who narrated her efforts to find a gift for her mom’s 50th birthday. Eventually, she decided on a pillow imitation of a Korean pop star after learning that her mom had been reading fanfiction about him. At the end, she expressed regret in her decision of accidentally gifting her mom with a “sex doll.”
Up next, senior Reem Larabi recounted the clinginess of her cat Mila, depicting her struggle of going to the bathroom without her cat following her. She highlighted the countless times that people have called Mila “chonky,” which prompted her to put the cat on a keto diet, and noted that “thicc” was the more accurate description.
A lot of laughs and cheers were heard for junior Raymond Perez, who paradoxically spoke about fearing death in his comedy set.
“It’s not just COVID. You can die anywhere. I guess that’s why you’re here. Laughter is the best medicine — second only to Ivermectin, of course,” he said. “It’s always been weird to me that people fear death. I don’t want to get crushed by a 16-wheeler either, but I never understood fearing not existing. I mean, I didn’t exist for 15 billion years, and it wasn’t that bad, right?”
According to Perez, the worst part of death is not being able to defend himself after he dies. He cited Catherine the Great as an example, who remains infamous for dying by having sex with a horse, though this was later proven to be a rumor. He continued with more humorous stories based on his experiences as a Christian, poking fun at some of the traditions and beliefs of the afterlife.
Senior Nina TuCai kept the laughter rolling with her imitations of online gamers’ quick and toxic insults, lamenting that her own comeback skills could not match up to them.
Ashwin Pasupathy, a junior from San Francisco, followed suit and joked about his guilty pleasure: watching reality TV shows.
“I was reading my Biochem textbook the other day. You know, studying glycolysis, gluconeogenesis, fatty acid synthesis. Okay, that’s a massive lie — I was grinding out the latest Bachelor in Paradise,” he said. “I was deeply entranced, then I heard a knock at the door. My mom asks me, ‘What are you watching, Ashwin?’... ‘Um, nothing, just some pornography.’”
The penultimate set was performed by sophomore Amy Zhang. She reflected on the difficulty of being gay at a conservative all-girls high school, questioning if her high school was actually a cult due to the strange traditions she endured during her time there.
Lastly, junior Nolan Lombardo examined his autism.
“A pretty common reaction I get when I tell someone I have autism is ‘Well, you seem normal’... Honestly, I take it as a great compliment,” he said. “For someone with autism, regular people things can require a great deal of effort... much like painting, for example. Except it seems like everyone else just popped out of the pussy painting like fucking Monet over here.”
Junior Amara Gammon attended the show after Pasupathy told her about it. In an email to The News-Letter, she highlighted that these virtual events are necessary to provide students with opportunities to socialize.
“Events like these really tie not only the JHU community together but help us branch out — there were people from Egypt on the call!” she wrote. “It was really fascinating how widespread the showing got, so I'm excited to have been part of it.”
Though the number of participants was much lower compared to previous in-person shows, Ruben noted that this was expected due to the event’s online nature. He hopes that his students will have the opportunity to return to the mic and perform at an in-person event in the future.
“There’s a different energy in-person, but this was the best we could do for now,” he said. “There was an advantage of allowing people beyond campus to Zoom into the event. Maybe this could start something new, where in-person performances could be live-streamed as well.”