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Class Cut-Ups : And That’s Everybody in College Course That Helps Would-Be Comics Crack Wise

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Throughout her life, a lot of people told Marjorie Barker that she was pretty funny. That is, until she went to the Order of School Sisters of Notre Dame in St. Louis.

“The funniest, most hysterical things happened to me in the convent,” said Barker, 48, a Silverado Canyon resident who is now an elementary school teacher in Westminster. “I was crazy and in trouble all of the time. They tried to kick me out a few times, but each time I said, ‘The food’s pretty good here, so I think I’ll stay.’ ”

A former nun, Barker ended up leaving the convent after five years. But she didn’t leave behind her sense of humor, and now she’s finally found a more appreciative audience--her fellow students in a stand-up comedy class at Rancho Santiago College.

For six weeks this summer, members of the motley class, which also includes a probation officer, a mortgage broker and some retired senior citizens, fantasize about becoming the next Jackie Mason or Roseanne Barr as they develop comedy material for their acts.

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Each week, they practice their routines on each other in preparation for their final exam--a live performance at a local comedy club.

“It’s a blast,” said Barker. “This has always been a dream of mine, and if I turn out to be good at it and people respond to me, I’ll go for it.”

The budding Jay Lenos are developing their material and their stage techniques under the watchful eye of instructor Steve Klasky, a professional stand-up comedian who performs at local comedy clubs.

Although each three-hour weekly class meeting includes a lecture on subjects such as microphone technique, vocal presentation and joke writing, the 15 members of the class spend most of the time critiquing each other’s acts in a workshop environment.

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“My classes seem to attract everyone from ex-nuns to computer operators,” said Klasky, a Huntington Beach resident. “They are usually filled with zany people looking for a creative outlook.”

Other alumni include lawyers, doctors, psychiatrists, salesmen, homemakers and a mortician who, Klasky said, “kept trying his jokes out on his clients but he couldn’t get a laugh.”

One person who had no trouble getting laughs was Colin McLane, a mortgage broker from Anaheim who performed his routine for his classmates for the first time on Monday.

“I’m in a classroom with people vying to be class clown and with an instructor who’s compelled to top them,” McLane said as he began a rapid-fire series of well-received jokes such as: “I was once in a line at the DMV that was so long that a lady had a baby. And she wasn’t even pregnant when we got in line.”

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Anne Rimmer, who said she quit her job earlier this year to spend more time with her family, has taken a disgruntled housewife, Erma Bombeck-like approach to her routine.

“I quit a high-paying job to be with the kids and ended up staying home alone putting labels on all of the photo albums with three cats with 10 billion fleas for company,” Rimmer said. “I am now actively job-hunting.”

Marilyn Medler, who works as a probation officer in Santa Ana, said her job and her three marriages--including two to the same man--have provided her with plenty of material for her routine.

“My life is a joke anyway,” the 41-year-old Medler explained. “So I’m just taking this class so I can learn to get paid for it.”

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Chuck Martin, a 58-year-old welder who works at Disneyland, has turned to memories of his youth in Texas for his material, which he delivers with a drawl.

“I’m going to tell you a little bit about my childhood,” his routine begins. “That’s the stage between puberty and adulthood.”

For Susan Resetar, a jury clerk at North Orange County Municipal Court, the class is serving as a nice summertime diversion.

“I love the power but my job can get a little boring,” she explained. “I’m in this class to punch up a little excitement in my life.”

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Klasky said about one of every 10 of his students usually goes on to perform at least some stand-up comedy professionally. Their gigs have ranged from local clubs to comedic traffic school to warm-up acts for studio audiences of network comedy shows.

Still, for most students, their stand-up comedy careers usually don’t extend beyond the course, which Klasky said is often enough to satisfy their curiosity.

“I’m not trying to change their philosophy on life,” he said. “I want to give them this one experience where they can go on stage, be well-received and live out the fantasy of what it’s like to be a stand-up.”


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