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December 14, 2018

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Teaching the stand-up guys, gals

Bonkerz Comedy Club offers class to prepare comics, but also to help people face crowds


Tiffany Brown

Bonkerz Comedy School graduates line up for a bow after their showcase in March. At the event, students each had five minutes in the spotlight.


What: Bonkerz Comedy School

When: The next showcase is 7 p.m. June 21 (for the current class); the next six-week class begins July 9.

Where: Bonkerz Comedy Club, Palace Station

Price: $250 for the class; showcase is free

Information: (866) 414-2665 or [email protected]

Bonkerz comedy class

Students listen to instructor Mick Lazinski on the first night of Bonkerz Comedy School at Palace Station in Las Vegas on Thursday, March 12, 2009. Launch slideshow »

Rosanne Sorboro has an MBA and owns a mobile notary company. But she thinks she might like to be a comedian.

The 29-year-old Bishop Gorman graduate looks as innocent and naive as a young Mother Teresa. But her humor would make Andrew Dice Clay blush.

She frequents comedy open-mic nights across the valley and says she would close her business and pursue a career as a stand-up comedian if the opportunity were to arise.

So, she plunked down $250 to be a member of the inaugural class of the Bonkerz Comedy School.

This is a boot camp for comedians. During the Thursday night sessions, the troupe will be subjected to every kind of distraction, from heckling to cell phones. After six weeks developing five minutes of material, they’ll present at a showcase at Bonkerz Comedy Club at Palace Station.

Sorboro’s classmates include a Ukrainian who has difficulty with the English language, a retired insurance agent with Parkinson’s disease, a preacher, a professional public speaker and a couple of housewives.

Some of the dozen are aspiring comedians. A few are there to gain confidence in front of crowds.

Most have an innate sense of humor. They have to learn to harness their energy, control their talents and be comfortable in front of crowds.

“Everybody starts off imitating somebody else because it’s easier,” instructor Mick Lazinski says. “But I want them to find out who they are, find their own voice. My goal is to draw the five minutes out of them and have them deliver it as themselves.”

Lazinski, a native of Milwaukee, was a comedy club headliner for almost 30 years. He opened for Joan Rivers, Craig Ferguson and the late George Carlin. He remembers opening for Bobby Slayton, known as the “Pit Bull of Comedy” because of his aggressive style.

“I was the cheerleader, getting the crowd clapping using my likability,” Lazinski says. “Bobby hated that. He hated me. He said ‘I don’t mind you as a person, but you don’t belong onstage.’ ”

Lazinski also worked cruise ships — once stopping at the remote Pitcairn Island, famous as the home of descendants of the Bounty’s mutineers. He first came to Vegas in the early ’80s and worked as a waiter while studying theater at UNLV. When he got tired of the road a few months ago, he returned to host the comedy club.

As Lazinski talks, the students drift in.

The introductory evening is one of discovery — learning about each other and a little about comedy and what is expected.

“I was voted class clown in middle school,” says Joyce Maalouf, who was born in Beirut, sold insurance and wants to be a stand-up comedian and host a Mediterranean cooking show.

Vince Antonucci, a minister, says, “My preaching is about one-third comedy.”

Johnny Morris confesses: “I hate being up in front of people and I am disease- and heroin-free.”

The students were told to bring three minutes of material to the first class. They take turns onstage, trying to deliver their material. At this point, Lazinski is less interested in the jokes than in assessing their comedic instincts.

“Everyone is funny with friends at the dinner table or school, but when you go up onstage, that’s frightening,” Lazinski says. “It’s guaranteed that you will fail. It’s those who can pick themselves up and get back onstage who will succeed.”

His assessment of this first class?

Some are almost good enough to begin working as stand-up comedians. Others need a lot of work.

“I see they have talent, but they just don’t know how to structure a joke. At the end of six weeks, I want them to know what they’re doing, and they will if they do the homework — sit down and write.

“If you focus, you will be rewarded. That’s one of the mantras. Sit down and write and you will be rewarded — and it doesn’t happen in five minutes.”

But five minutes will be their focus for six weeks, five minutes of material for their showcase. It doesn’t seem like much. After all, a stand-up headliner needs at least 45 minutes.

The students will learn to write material and to edit it, then edit it again and again until there is an even flow and a purpose to their presentation. “They’re going to learn it’s all in the editing,” Lazinski says.

In the weeks ahead, he spends time with the students on the phone, critiquing their work and answering questions. And for two hours on Thursdays, the students carve out their five minutes of comedy.

“They have to learn that comedy is scripted and rehearsed over and over. Once you’re comfortable with that then you can go off and be spontaneous.”

Fast forward six weeks.

Bonkerz is full of the students’ friends for the showcase. It’s free. Everyone’s in a good mood.

“I’m first because I’m here to lower your expectation level,” says Devin Hudson, a professional public speaker who took the class to hone his public speaking skills.

The crowd roars.

He nails his five minutes and turns the microphone over to Gaye Freedman, who didn’t have enough material to fill three minutes on her first day of class.

“I’m very educated,” she says, walking confidently across the stage and taking command of the spotlight. “I have a bachelor’s in radio and film, a master’s in instructional design and a doctorate in education.

“And I am looking for a job. The last interview I went on paid $6.65 an hour. They turned me down. Said I didn’t have experience.”

The others follow.

The audience likes John Barnes’ jokes about his Vietnamese wife and Quinn Hatch’s blue humor.

But sometimes the crowd is merely polite, and some of the adult comedy falls flat.

Lazinski had stressed on the first day of class the importance of knowing when and where to work clean and dirty. “You’ve got to get the audience to like you, then you can get away with murder.”

Sorboro didn’t get the audience in her corner soon enough. Her vulgarity shocked rather than amused.

“I’m happy with more than half of them,” Lazinski says.

His favorites were Freedman, Barnes and Morris. He liked Hudson, but Hudson isn’t sure about becoming a comedian. “A few did not sit down and write.”

The students say they learned several things from the class, most important, to feel comfortable onstage.

Sorboro learned the toughest lesson — dying is easy, comedy is hard.

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