San Joaquin Delta College’s “Improv Comedy Slam,” which opens tonight for a three-day run in the Tillie Lewis Theatre, is the swan song, at least for a while, for Samantha Johnson.
The Lodi native plans to make a big splash, not only writing and participating in sketches and the improv portion of the show, but trying her hand at stand-up comedy for the first time.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Johnson said. “The way I make friends is to try to make them laugh, but stand-up seemed a little too out there. I gave it a try and people laughed.”
Actually, she stood and told a joke she’d come up with and the rest of the cast of 11 and directors Greg Foro and Casey McClellan laughed. With that encouragement, she began developing a longer routine.
“For a while I only had one joke and I couldn’t think of any more jokes to fill out the time. It was like 30 seconds,” Johnson said. “One day I started writing about my life a little bit and how I feel about stuff.”
Stuff like body image issues.
“That’s why I try to be funny,” Johnson said. “I don’t have a lot of self-confidence about the way I look and dress. My way of dealing with that is to make people laugh at things I say before they can laugh at me. That’s where my jokes come from.”
Confidence to create a character on stage or make people laugh has never been lacking for the 22-year-old. From the time she was a little girl she’s followed her dad’s lead and tried to make people laugh.
She wrote stories in sixth grade, started performing in middle school and was a part of drama at Lodi High School for four years, graduating in 2014. She’s been in Delta productions since, although she’s completing a bachelor’s degree in English through Arizona State’s online program and is stepping away from theater for the next year to complete her degree and begin work on a teaching credential.
“I fought it for a long time,” Johnson said of earning the credential so she can teach drama. “I’m still fighting it a little bit. I’m doing it to be safe, but what I want to do is own my own theater so I can direct, write and do improv.”
Castmate Nick Hardin, 21, isn’t as conflicted about earning a credential. He still aspires to teach drama, and like Johnson, has honed his craft at Delta since graduating from Lincoln High School in 2014. He’s also performed at Showbiz Theatre Company and is a part of the ensemble for Stockton Civic Theatre’s upcoming production of “Hair.”
Like Johnson, Hardin is in sketches and will do the improv part of the show and will also deliver a stand-up routine.
“I like improv the best,” Hardin said. “That’s always been my true love in theater and I don’t get to do it as often as I’d like.”
He’s also trying stand-up comedy for the first time.
“I’ve learned that it’s OK to try things even if you’re not sure about them,” Hardin said. “Just try it out and see if it will work. If it doesn’t, OK. Scrap it and move on or work and fix it.”
Hardin has worked out his routine, like Johnson, trying out material on the class. He’s focusing on observations of typical things people encounter every day, along the stylings of his favorite stand-up comic, John Mulaney.
For the improv segment of the show, which makes up the second act, the class has spent time preparing with games and building camaraderie.
“A lot goes into it,” Johnson said. “People think you just get up there and do stuff, but we play games to learn confidence. It’s about knowing your team. You can’t get up there with a group you never worked with before. You need to be comfortable, know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. You have to be confident, have stage presence.”
The improv pieces will be determined by suggestions from the audience, who will be seated, cabaret style, on the stage to give the show a nightclub feel.
The rest of the pieces are student-generated.
It’s the second year that McClellan and Foro have directed the summer comedy project.
“What’s most interesting is watching the students go to outrageous places you wouldn’t assume they’d be able to or want to go, but they get on stage and let loose. There’s a fearlessness among the actors,” said Foro, drama professor at Delta.
There are some political jokes, although Johnson said she doesn’t follow politics and wrote a sketch called “Post-Apocalyptic Rap Battle.” Foro notes there are some Russia jokes and one about Colin Kaepernick and kneeling.
“I’m always surprised by the material they choose,” Foro said. “You think that won’t strike them at that age, that demographic, but they come up with astute observations. College students have something to say in an insightful and funny way.”
Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @lorigrecord.