School of wise cracks

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First Posted: 9/19/2014

If you have ever been to a comedy show, you have probably seen two different kinds of comics. The ones who make you pee in your pants a little and the ones who… don’t.

When it comes to being successful in the world of comedy there are three categories to examine according to local comedy club owner Scott Bruce of Drums, which includes writing, performing and business. Aspiring comics are invited to Bruce’s free class every Thursday night at 7 p.m. inside Wisecrackers at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre.

“Most people excel in at least one area of either writing, performing or business in the beginning to even want to come,” said Wisecrackers owner Scott Bruce.

The class, open to anyone with an interest in comedy, is structured to help students find out which category they are weakest in and are guided by the wisdom and experience of Bruce, a comic with more than 30 years of experience, to grow in areas that can use improvement.

For comic Delmer VonWankstrom (that’s his real name) of Wilkes-Barre, participating in the class has improved his writing skills tremendously.

“I’ve been doing stand-up for seven months. My first time was here at Wisecrackers. Lots of my act were stories. Scott Bruce helped me with editing it and condensing it down,” VonWankstrom said.

Bruce stresses to his students that almost every joke will contain material that isn’t needed. If the word doesn’t help the joke it’s got to go, Bruce said. Evaluating the words can condense a routine from 15 minutes down to ten.

Each dose of constructive wisdom is accompanied by an example.

“There are storytelling comedians, of course, like Bill Cosby for example, but there are jokes sprinkled around in the story. If you’re telling a story with a lot of words, be sure to have jokes sprinkled around,” Bruce said.

More often than not, the insight comes from Bruce’s firsthand experience as a comic who has performed alongside some of the most notable comedians over the past three decades, including Robin Williams, Tim Allen and Jerry Seinfeld.

Dan Hoppel of Pittston appreciates the insight because it helps expedite the learning process of performing.

“All the tricks and pitfalls you’d normally get from years of experience, we get dropped on us from someone who has over 30 years of experience,” Hoppel said.

“Scott Bruce has a lot of wisdom in his head,” said Matt Serniak of Scranton, who learned to not hold a microphone too close to his mouth from participating in the class.

“He also has a lot of wisdom in his balls,” joked Zack Hammond of Luzerne.

An example of that ‘wisdom’ is when Bruce recalls opening for Seinfeld in Connecticut in 1989 while telling his students how to handle hecklers. According to Bruce, this was before he was the Seinfeld we all know today.

“It was the first year of ‘Seinfeld’ and the ratings were terrible in the beginning. He was still known because he was on ‘The Tonight Show’ with Carson like fifty times already but he wasn’t the Seinfeld we all know today. Believe it or not, he had a heckler in the audience and he just stood there and said ‘Okay, say your peace’ and sat there waiting for him to be done. He was so relaxed about it. That’s how he handled his hecklers,” Bruce said.

The aspiring comics are encouraged to realize there are many different ways to handle a heckler, such as insulting them or calling them out in front of the crowd. One rule of thumb, however, is never tell an audience they are a bad crowd.

“There actually is such a thing as a bad crowd. If there’s a bad crowd, it’s the comic’s job to figure out how to bring them around,” Bruce said.

There are also crowds that a comic may think is a bad crowd that actually aren’t, Bruce claims.

“I had a show I thought wasn’t so good. Nobody really laughed. Then, after the show, they all lined up to shake my hand and tell me how much they enjoyed it. Good thing I didn’t call them a bad crowd,” Bruce said.

While some may argue that comedy isn’t a trait that can really be taught, everyone who partakes in the class has their own reasons for going that stem beyond learning. Sometimes it’s for extra practice.

Mike Dougherty of Hawley came to the class to get extra practice for a benefit he is performing in at Cora’s 1850 Bistro on Sunday, Sept. 28, also in Hawley, with proceeds benefiting The Seeing Eye organization from New Jersey that provided him with a blind companion dog. Dougherty, who lost his vision three years ago from diabetes, turned to stand-up two years ago as a method to coping with losing his eyesight.

For Dan Hoppel, attending the free class gives him a sense of community.

“The best thing by far that I got out of this class is that I didn’t know there was a community of comedians. We’re like a family now,” Hoppel said.

“It’s nice to know you’re not the only psychotic person,” Shawn Ravenfire of Wilkes-Barre added.

Scott Bruce loves the comradeship of comedians and finds it to be crucial in the learning process of his class, which is proceeded by a comedy show featuring members of the class at 9 p.m.

“You almost have to learn from other comedians. You need someone to try out material on, share stories of performing with and have an honest ear,” Bruce said.

Comics on all levels of experience are invited to attend Wisecracker’s comedy class every Thursday at 7 p.m. inside Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre. Whether you’re a comic with years of experience and stories to share or someone just getting their feet wet and looking for direction, Scott Bruce will embrace you with arms wide open. They might just make fun of you, but that’s a term of endearment from a comic.