Using Comedy to Teach Kids Confidence

February 14, 2018
A student from Stand Up With Comedy perfroms at the Improv. Photo courtesy of Stand Up With Comedy

On a recent afternoon, just after dismissal at Valley Charter Middle School in Van Nuys, a small group of students, along with half a dozen professional comedians, walked around a classroom. Whenever they encountered another person, the rules directed, they had to make eye contact and a noise, seemingly the weirder the better. The other person had to repeat the noise and then come up with a new noise. And so it went for several minutes.

At a glance, it looked silly. But the exercise was about practicing how to make a connection, even while doing something else, according to instructor and Los Angeles-based comedian Michael Magid.

It was the second session of this once-a-week Stand Up With Comedy class. By week eight, the participating students will be prepared to each do their own three-minute set in a final performance.

“It’s about self-expression and self-confidence,” said Reg Tigerman, a local talent manager who started the 2-year-old nonprofit with his wife, Alison. “The first part is instilling in them that their ideas matter, then helping them pull out their thoughts and ideas and putting them onto the page, making them funny, and getting them to say it onstage.”

“Getting them comfortable enough to say that stuff in front of their peers is one of the hardest parts,” added Alison, the organization’s executive director.

“Getting them comfortable enough to say that stuff in front of their peers is one of the hardest parts.” — Alison Tigerman

The Sherman Oaks residents were inspired to launch Stand Up With Comedy after Reg Tigerman’s experience volunteering with Young Storytellers, an organization that teaches kids how to tell a story. Tigerman, a Los Angeles native whose family was active at Stephen S. Wise Temple and who works with many comedians in addition to being a longtime comedy enthusiast (at his request, his mom took him to a taping of “Seinfeld” at the ripe age of 9), wondered why something similar couldn’t be done with stand-up. Alison had recently received her master’s in social and community planning from USC.

“We decided to combine our interests,” said Tigerman, who teaches some of the classes.

They sought private donations and did a pilot program at the New Los Angeles Middle School near Culver City. Since then, they have offered classes — all free to participants — to some 300 kids at about 10 Los Angeles public schools. They also have done programs for homeless youth at PATH in Long Beach and Camp Harmony in Malibu. Many of the classes have been sponsored by companies or individuals. The Tigermans are just beginning to pursue grants to help fund the program. Their principal instructors receive a stipend. But most of the comedians, actors and writers who serve as in-class mentors are volunteers.

Not surprisingly, kids have fun in Stand Up With Comedy classes, playing interactive comedy games, watching age-appropriate clips of famous comedians, and hanging with their buddies. “My favorite part is when we get to stand up at the mic and tell jokes,” said Isaac Roscoe-Graff, a sixth-grader in the Valley Charter class. “It sometimes but very rarely has that classroom feel.” In fact, the classes follow a thoughtfully crafted, original curriculum that covers a lot of information students might never be exposed to otherwise, such as, what exactly a setup is and what are its three parts.

“The most satisfying thing is seeing how the students evolve over the eight weeks,” said Reg Tigerman, “whether it’s the class clown who focuses her energy into a hilarious stand-up set, or a shy student who finally comes out of his shell and shares something onstage that’s unique, incisive and funny.”

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