Las Vegas Sun

October 17, 2017

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Students stay after school just to be funny


Richard Brian

Junior Davis Bauman, left, and senior Alez Williams — both members of Palo Verde’s comedy club, Pun Intended — perform improv comedy during a show at Sig Rogich Middle School on Oct. 23.

Pun Intended

Members of Pun Intended -- standing from left, senior Sarah Young, junior Adam Frye; sitting from left, junior Taz Garcia and sophomore Jake Gigar -- perform improv comedy during a show at Sig Rogich Middle School on Thursday Oct. 23. Launch slideshow »

The concept may sound simple, but it requires technique and skill to master — making people laugh.

Once a week at Palo Verde High School, a group of 11 teenage comedians gather together to hone their craft as part of Pun Intended, an after-school comedy club formed in 2000.

Auditions for the club at the beginning of each school year draw large crowds, said Dena Demman, Palo Verde High School's Fine and Performing Arts department chair.

"We probably had about 80 kids auditioning at the beginning of this school year," Demman said.

Only 11 made the final cut — six girls and five boys. And when she was asked to describe the kids in the club, Demman couldn't help but hesitate.

"A lot of the kids are the ones who might be a little obnoxious in class," she said. "But that's how good comedians are, they're class clowns. On the other hand, some of our funniest kids are also really good students who never make a scene in class, so it goes both ways."

Pun Intended focuses on improvisational comedy where cast members are handed situations or topics and create entire comedy routines on the spot.

Anna Allred and Adam Neri, both Palo Verde graduates, serve as coaches for the team.

"One of the first steps is learning how to be funny without trying to be funny," Demman said. "That's the mark of a good comedian."

The club participates in eight shows per year, some of which are face-offs against comedy teams from other schools in the Las Vegas Valley.

Cimarron, Coronado and Western High Schools each have comedy teams, and Demman said there is no formal judging panel at the competitions — the team that earns the loudest applause from the audience wins.

"It's all in fun," she said. "One group of kids just trying to be funnier than the other."

The characters and dialogue are almost always pieced together on the fly, often with side-splitting results similar to the routines found on the television show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

Seventeen-year-old senior Shelby Whiteside was already known in the halls of Palo Verde as a comedian before she heard about Pun Intended through word of mouth. She decided to audition during her sophomore year.

"I wasn't sure at first," Whiteside said. "I'm funny when I'm with my friends, but being on stage is totally different. But I auditioned and I made it."

Two of her cohorts, 17-year-old senior Alex Williams and 16-year-old junior Adam Frye, both had prior experience in theater before joining.

Williams has been with Pun Intended since his freshman year.

"It's a stress reliever sometimes," he said. "If you're having a stressful week, you can't wait for your next comedy rehearsal."

Whiteside, whose biggest comedic influence is Tina Fey, said she wants to pursue a career in comedy after high school. She is hoping to move to Chicago and enroll in The Second City, an improv theater that has been running since 1959.

Frye named Adam Sandler and Pauly Shore as his biggest influences, and Williams said he looks up to famous comedian Robin Williams.

Being a good observer of your surroundings is one of the secrets to becoming a skilled comedian, Whiteside said.

"I find funny things in any situation," she said. "If you see someone riding a bike who is wearing weird pants, you can base an entire routine off 'the guy riding a bike with the weird pants.'"

Another key, Frye said, is simply not caring what anybody else thinks.

"You can't be shy at all," he said. "I was once in a comedy show where I had to wear a dress in front of 100 people."

Jeff O’Brien can be reached at 990-8957 or [email protected].

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