What's so Funny? Gabriel Iglesias and Redwood students know the answer By Gregory Block, Carolyn French and Andrew Hout
You’ve tried to tell a joke, whispering something to a friend and expecting a hearty laugh in response. When all you received was a sorry giggle, well, they just don’t have your sense of humor, right? But what if you aren’t as funny as you think you are? Unfortunately, it’s probably true, at least according to one of comedy’s biggest stars. “I think that it’s got to be one of those things that you just have or you don’t. I’ve never seen someone who wasn’t funny become funny in general,” said Gabriel Iglesias, a comedian who has performed at Madison Square Garden and produced multiple Netflix specials. “You either have a personality or you don’t.” In September, the Bark was given an opportunity to conduct a phone interview with Iglesias. He discussed the ups and downs of his career and his inspiration for becoming a comic. What stood out most, besides Iglesias’ conversational hilarity, was his opinion on humor development. Practice can help, according to Iglesias, but at the end of the day, being funny is an innate trait. Fifty-three percent of Redwood students share Iglesias’ perspective that people are born funny, according to data from the October Bark survey. And while this may be true, Redwood students are still utilizing opportunities to expand and improve upon their humor. To the more seasoned Redwood comedians, comedy is not an inherent talent, rather a skill that can be developed with practice. “I think humor is more of a muscle,” said senior Will Gallagher, who will be performing in Micetro, the popular improvisation-based comedy show that begins on Nov. 1. “Some people are born with a strong muscle, but if you work out enough you’re going to increase your talent.” Opportunities for Redwood students to study comedy have increased in the past few years with the creation of the Language of Humor class as an English elective. The class, started by English teacher Steve Hettleman, was intended to give non-AP English students an opportunity to learn traditional English emphases through a non-traditional lens. In the class, students study famous comedic texts, learn how to write comedy and work on crafting and performing a stand-up routine, according to Hettleman. The class approaches humor from an academic perspective, using it as a tool to grasp the intricacies of the English language. “We look a lot at satire and parody,” Hettleman said. “Humor is really a form of criticism. It’s a way of poking fun at things that otherwise might be off the table or taboo.” So how do people become funny? It’s a question that conjures many opinions, but there’s really no right answer. For Iglesias, humor comes from worldview—what someone observes around them and how they are able to frame it with a humorous perspective. Repetition and practice can help someone improve their delivery, but their ability to look at the world through a comedic lens will not change. “The process for coming up with my stuff is basically I live it,” Iglesias said. “I go up on stage and I vent about it. Sometimes it’s really, really funny and sometimes it’s just this angry Mexican up there who’s got issues.”
Gallagher shares a similar opinion, explaining that for him, humor is influenced by environment. Parents, pop culture preferences, familial views—these are what give someone the ability to think and behave humorously. “I think a lot of humor comes from a young age—what you do and what you absorb at a young age,” Gallagher said. “People who grow up on Comedy Central understand the timing, how to build a punchline, how to use body language and facial language, and I think that’s a very important part of humor.” Junior Ali Janku, who will also be performing in Micetro, recognized the importance of observation and experience in developing comedic talent. “Some people just have an aptitude towards funny and there are so many different ways that that can manifest,” Janku said. “I think that it’s not just purely nature, that it’s also nurture.” Hettleman admits that being funny is partially natural, but he also sees an opportunity for students to expand their humor through practice. “[Iglesias] is probably right to some extent that there’s a propensity for it, the way you see the world, but I certainly think it could be taught and it should be taught,” Hettleman said. “Practice, feedback, desire to do it—all of those things I think play into the ability to learn humor.” Audience and style can also dictate whether something is funny, and having an understanding of both is important for budding comics, according to Iglesias. Iglesias stays away from jokes that spark controversy, instead striving to unite his audience. “I avoid politics, I avoid religion, I avoid sports, I avoid any topics that get people riled up,” Iglesias said. “I don’t want to divide my audience; I want to bring my audience together. By avoiding certain topics, I keep the crowd friendly.” But remain too friendly, and a comic can lose their edge. “I can’t just talk about a nice day—people don’t want to hear about a ‘nice’ day. They want to hear about other people’s issues,” Iglesias said. “You relate to people who have things going on in their lives. No one wants to hear about the guy who has it all together.” In order to turn something mundane into something hilarious, a comic has to utilize a variety of comedic techniques, such as irony, hyperbole and repetition. These are just a few of the devices that Language of Humor students analyze, according to senior Liam Lucas. “People might not know exactly what it means, but they might still use it even if they haven’t learned about it,” Lucas said. “[The class] just helps you understand why it’s funny.” Language of Humor teacher Cathy Flores-Marsh believes that the class also helps students integrate humor into their writing. “All teenagers are funny in some way. They just don’t know what they need to use,” Flores-Marsh said. “The class teaches kids how to insert humor into their writing, which is something most don’t know how to do.” For Flores-Marsh, humor is a skill that is rarely mastered, but one that can be improved. She teaches the class by emphasizing the importance of practice. “Humor rhetoric is not usually considered something people become skillful at, but the class lets me approach it in that way,” Flores-Marsh said. Humor is a dynamic medium. Comics are not bound by any rules or regulations, but instead have the freedom to speak about whatever they want, however they want. This lack of structure can be challenging to young comics, according to Hettleman. “Kids are like ‘can I swear?’” Hettleman said. “They don’t understand that they have to swear with a purpose.” Understanding an audience is especially critical for improv actors, such as those in Micetro, who have no control over the style, character and props they will be using in any given scene. Gallagher’s tip? Speak whatever’s on your mind. “Even if it’s a mistake or something really weird, it’s still funny because people are like ‘how the hell did you just come up with that?’” Gallagher said. “Being weird is funny to people.” And applying this spark of weirdness requires confidence, perhaps the most important comedic trait.
“If you’re not committed to your funny character then it’s not funny because you’re embarrassed about it,” Janku said. “But if you are committed to it, even to just the joke you’re telling and you’re confident about it, then that’s what makes it funny.” Micetro has gained popularity over the years because of its spontaneity—neither the actors nor the audience really know what to expect. This randomness can lead to embarrassment or comic delight, often both at the same time. But don’t mistake this for a lack of preparedness. If anything, improv highlights the practice and repetition that allow comics to master delivery and style. “In order to become better you need to get up on stage five or six times a week. You need to find places to go up. The more you get up, the better you are going to get,” Iglesias said. “If anything else, your confidence and your comfortability up on stage will get stronger. And with that your performance level will start going up.” Micetro actors begin practicing months in advance, learning improvisation techniques, comedy skills and how to think on their feet. The repetition also allows the actors to develop on-stage relationships and an understanding of how to play off of each other’s humor. “Improv is special because it’s more about wit and coming up with things on the fly,” Gallagher said. “It’s easy to train because as you do more improv you’re going to have more ideas for how to take something. Improv is very team-based because if you’re in a scene with someone you kind of build off of each other and that connection you have between the two can make funny things happen.” As Micetro performers perfect their improv skills and Language of Humor students learn how to write and perform comedy, it appears that Redwood students are doing their best to think funnier and be funnier. But in Iglesias’ opinion, they still have a long way to go. “You guys don’t know shit yet,” Iglesias said. “Life is going to come at you—be fricking ready.” Advice taken, Mr. Iglesias. Advice taken.
What's so Funny? Gabriel Iglesias and Redwood students know the answer
By Gregory Block, Carolyn French and Andrew Hout
You’ve tried to tell a joke, whispering something to a friend and expecting a hearty laugh in response. When all you received was a sorry giggle, well, they just don’t have your sense of humor, right? But what if you aren’t as funny as you think you are? Unfortunately, it’s probably true, at least according to one of comedy’s biggest stars. “I think that it’s got to be one of those things that you just have or you don’t. I’ve never seen someone who wasn’t funny become funny in general,” said Gabriel Iglesias, a comedian who has performed at Madison Square Garden and produced multiple Netflix specials. “You either have a personality or you don’t.” In September, the Bark was given an opportunity to conduct a phone interview with Iglesias. He discussed the ups and downs of his career and his inspiration for becoming a comic. What stood out most, besides Iglesias’ conversational hilarity, was his opinion on humor development. Practice can help, according to Iglesias, but at the end of the day, being funny is an innate trait. Fifty-three percent of Redwood students share Iglesias’ perspective that people are born funny, according to data from the October Bark survey. And while this may be true, Redwood students are still utilizing opportunities to expand and improve upon their humor. To the more seasoned Redwood comedians, comedy is not an inherent talent, rather a skill that can be developed with practice. “I think humor is more of a muscle,” said senior Will Gallagher, who will be performing in Micetro, the popular improvisation-based comedy show that begins on Nov. 1. “Some people are born with a strong muscle, but if you work out enough you’re going to increase your talent.” Opportunities for Redwood students to study comedy have increased in the past few years with the creation of the Language of Humor class as an English elective. The class, started by English teacher Steve Hettleman, was intended to give non-AP English students an opportunity to learn traditional English emphases through a non-traditional lens. In the class, students study famous comedic texts, learn how to write comedy and work on crafting and performing a stand-up routine, according to Hettleman. The class approaches humor from an academic perspective, using it as a tool to grasp the intricacies of the English language. “We look a lot at satire and parody,” Hettleman said. “Humor is really a form of criticism. It’s a way of poking fun at things that otherwise might be off the table or taboo.” So how do people become funny? It’s a question that conjures many opinions, but there’s really no right answer. For Iglesias, humor comes from worldview—what someone observes around them and how they are able to frame it with a humorous perspective. Repetition and practice can help someone improve their delivery, but their ability to look at the world through a comedic lens will not change. “The process for coming up with my stuff is basically I live it,” Iglesias said. “I go up on stage and I vent about it. Sometimes it’s really, really funny and sometimes it’s just this angry Mexican up there who’s got issues.”
Gallagher shares a similar opinion, explaining that for him, humor is influenced by environment. Parents, pop culture preferences, familial views—these are what give someone the ability to think and behave humorously. “I think a lot of humor comes from a young age—what you do and what you absorb at a young age,” Gallagher said. “People who grow up on Comedy Central understand the timing, how to build a punchline, how to use body language and facial language, and I think that’s a very important part of humor.” Junior Ali Janku, who will also be performing in Micetro, recognized the importance of observation and experience in developing comedic talent. “Some people just have an aptitude towards funny and there are so many different ways that that can manifest,” Janku said. “I think that it’s not just purely nature, that it’s also nurture.” Hettleman admits that being funny is partially natural, but he also sees an opportunity for students to expand their humor through practice. “[Iglesias] is probably right to some extent that there’s a propensity for it, the way you see the world, but I certainly think it could be taught and it should be taught,” Hettleman said. “Practice, feedback, desire to do it—all of those things I think play into the ability to learn humor.” Audience and style can also dictate whether something is funny, and having an understanding of both is important for budding comics, according to Iglesias. Iglesias stays away from jokes that spark controversy, instead striving to unite his audience. “I avoid politics, I avoid religion, I avoid sports, I avoid any topics that get people riled up,” Iglesias said. “I don’t want to divide my audience; I want to bring my audience together. By avoiding certain topics, I keep the crowd friendly.” But remain too friendly, and a comic can lose their edge. “I can’t just talk about a nice day—people don’t want to hear about a ‘nice’ day. They want to hear about other people’s issues,” Iglesias said. “You relate to people who have things going on in their lives. No one wants to hear about the guy who has it all together.” In order to turn something mundane into something hilarious, a comic has to utilize a variety of comedic techniques, such as irony, hyperbole and repetition. These are just a few of the devices that Language of Humor students analyze, according to senior Liam Lucas. “People might not know exactly what it means, but they might still use it even if they haven’t learned about it,” Lucas said. “[The class] just helps you understand why it’s funny.” Language of Humor teacher Cathy Flores-Marsh believes that the class also helps students integrate humor into their writing. “All teenagers are funny in some way. They just don’t know what they need to use,” Flores-Marsh said. “The class teaches kids how to insert humor into their writing, which is something most don’t know how to do.” For Flores-Marsh, humor is a skill that is rarely mastered, but one that can be improved. She teaches the class by emphasizing the importance of practice. “Humor rhetoric is not usually considered something people become skillful at, but the class lets me approach it in that way,” Flores-Marsh said. Humor is a dynamic medium. Comics are not bound by any rules or regulations, but instead have the freedom to speak about whatever they want, however they want. This lack of structure can be challenging to young comics, according to Hettleman. “Kids are like ‘can I swear?’” Hettleman said. “They don’t understand that they have to swear with a purpose.” Understanding an audience is especially critical for improv actors, such as those in Micetro, who have no control over the style, character and props they will be using in any given scene. Gallagher’s tip? Speak whatever’s on your mind. “Even if it’s a mistake or something really weird, it’s still funny because people are like ‘how the hell did you just come up with that?’” Gallagher said. “Being weird is funny to people.” And applying this spark of weirdness requires confidence, perhaps the most important comedic trait.
“If you’re not committed to your funny character then it’s not funny because you’re embarrassed about it,” Janku said. “But if you are committed to it, even to just the joke you’re telling and you’re confident about it, then that’s what makes it funny.” Micetro has gained popularity over the years because of its spontaneity—neither the actors nor the audience really know what to expect. This randomness can lead to embarrassment or comic delight, often both at the same time. But don’t mistake this for a lack of preparedness. If anything, improv highlights the practice and repetition that allow comics to master delivery and style. “In order to become better you need to get up on stage five or six times a week. You need to find places to go up. The more you get up, the better you are going to get,” Iglesias said. “If anything else, your confidence and your comfortability up on stage will get stronger. And with that your performance level will start going up.” Micetro actors begin practicing months in advance, learning improvisation techniques, comedy skills and how to think on their feet. The repetition also allows the actors to develop on-stage relationships and an understanding of how to play off of each other’s humor. “Improv is special because it’s more about wit and coming up with things on the fly,” Gallagher said. “It’s easy to train because as you do more improv you’re going to have more ideas for how to take something. Improv is very team-based because if you’re in a scene with someone you kind of build off of each other and that connection you have between the two can make funny things happen.” As Micetro performers perfect their improv skills and Language of Humor students learn how to write and perform comedy, it appears that Redwood students are doing their best to think funnier and be funnier. But in Iglesias’ opinion, they still have a long way to go. “You guys don’t know shit yet,” Iglesias said. “Life is going to come at you—be fricking ready.” Advice taken, Mr. Iglesias. Advice taken.