No laughing matter

Mimi Spindle feels like she's flying when she's on stage performing for Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy's ComedySportz team.

"You don't know what's coming out of your mouth but people are laughing at it and you have no idea what's coming next," said Spindle, a senior at Sacred Heart and three-year veteran of the team. "It's real and it's almost magic. You get off stage and ask, 'What just happened?'"

Spindle and many other California high school students across may come crashing down to earth if the Los Angeles ComedySportz Theater is forced to close its doors.

Sacred Heart, Flintridge Preparatory School, La Cañada High School and about 70 other schools in the Los Angeles area have a ComedySportz program, which is supported by the local theater. Without the theater, there is no high school program.

James Bailey, the founder of the Los Angeles theater and coach of Sacred Heart's team for 21 years, said the recession has finally hit ComedySportz.

"A large portion of our business is corporate entertainment," Bailey said. "When the economy tanked our corporate entertainment dried up."

After waiting and hoping the economy would eventually rebound, the Los Angeles ComedySportz Theater has opted to reach out to its fan base for help.

"We aren't asking for a handout, we are just asking people to come and buy tickets like they always do," Bailey said.

So far, Bailey has been pleased with the response. People from all over, mostly high school alumni, have answered the call.

The outpouring of support means ComedySportz's high school program isn't in jeopardy this year. But next year is a different story.

"It's sad realizing how much we've gotten from it and then thinking that the younger classes might not have the same experience," said Lauren Donnelly, Sacred Heart senior and three-year member of the school's ComedySportz team.

Becky Wilcox, Sacred Heart senior and three-year participant of ComedySportz, has trouble believing the high school program could be on its last leg.

"When I look at the freshman class I can spot these girls that look like they're going to be funny," Wilcox said. "But then you remember there may not be an outlet for it much longer."

High school ComedySportz teams compete about once a month and charge $5 for admission. The Sacred Heart team usually attracts more than 100 people to a show. This is not enough to sustain the program for years to come so the Tologs will be hosting mini-shows during lunch, charging everyone $1 to catch the performance.

Both Donnelly and Spindle credit the club for bringing them out of their shells and making the transition to high school easier. The group gave them a sense of belonging and a "second family."

"You get that feeling when you come to practice and realize these are my people; my weird and wonderful people," Spindle said.

The program does more than establish bonds though, Bailey said. It trains young adults to produce their own show, teaches creativity and presents a challenge that must be transformed into something positive.

"These are life skills they all walk away with. We don't tell them they are going to get that because no one would do it otherwise," Bailey laughed.

The loss of ComedySportz could have an even bigger impact on most high schools.

"At some schools the money generated by ComedySportz pays for their entire arts program," Bailey said. "Without that money it's not just a question of what happens to ComedySportz but it's what do they do now."

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