Middle School Students to Go for the Laughs at MinneHaHa Thursday

"Come out and support these kids as they take the stage for the first time," MinneHaHa owner Michael Orensteen said.

The next George Carlin, Chris Rock or Dane Cook could take the stage at Shakopee's Thursday.

Or at least, so hope the members of the comedy club at  in Apple Valley, who have been meeting for two months to learn to perform standup comedy—everything from feeling comfortable on stage, to finding authentic comedic topics and styles, to knowing the terms for parts of a routine.

The club, with three members this year, is run by Chris Adams, a substitute teacher in Apple Valley-Rosemount-Eagan district who started doing standup in college.

Adams started the club at the middle school level in Burnsville last year with eight students, and has developed the curriculum on his own. Even though standup comedy has boomed in popularity in recent years, including among kids and teens, the opportunity for the younger set to participate in it has been slim, Adams said.

"There are no other comedy clubs for teens anywhere," he said.

Eighth grader Max Almgren knew as he grew up, watching Jeff Foxworthy and other comedians, that standup was something he wanted to try. He said he's enjoyed learning tips to make jokes funnier; joke delivery is one of the more challenging aspects.

Adams, who has begun discussing his curriculum with instructors in other parts of the country, said he starts out getting the students comfortable with the idea of performing.

"That's such an anxiety for so many kids," he said.

Adams also has them analyze other comedians—which can be tricky to select, because all the material has to be clean—and do some jokes their favorites have done. This helps the students find their comedic style.

"It's about their personal style more than the joke itself," Adams said.

Using an authentic topic makes a joke seem believable to the audience, Adams said—for example, a joke about driving a car isn't as funny coming from someone who isn't old enough to have driven yet.

He also works with the students on writing to find good topics and to find the funny in those topics. The final piece of the puzzle is condensing the material to make it effective in front of an audience.

"It's a process," Adams said—there isn't a lot of instant gratification. Some people have a natural aptitude for reading an audience, he said, while others have to work harder to become funnier.

Almgren's go-to topics include things his mom says and some of the stupid things he sees people do, he said; he also uses sarcasm, he said. Seventh grader Mason Vitali, whose favorite standup comedian is Gabriel Iglesias, said he aims for jokes about things he sees on TV shows and in commercials.

As a culminating event this year, the club members will perform a routine on stage at the MinneHaHa Comedy Club in Shakopee at 7 p.m. Thursday, along with Adams and one of his former students who has continued to work on comedy.

"Come out and support these kids as they take the stage for the first time," MinneHaHa owner said, noting this is the second year Adams has brought students over to perform. Admission is free.

"I'm all for supporting after-school youth programs and think this will be a great opportunity for the kids to experience what it would be like to perform at a real comedy club in front of a real audience," he said. "I'll stand behind him as long as he has the program running."

For Adams, the student performances bring back nerves he experienced when he started out performing but have since waned.

"I get nervous for them," he said, though he knows the laughs will come. "It's like a parental instinct."



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