When Chris Nee performed at his first open mic at the Comedy Cabaret in Northeast Philadelphia, he was 16 and technically not allowed to be on stage.
“You had to be 18 to perform and I had no clue,” Nee said. “I just signed a list to go up on stage and waited out in the parking lot for my set. … I was sweating bullets. I was so nervous.”
After hearing the crowd laugh at his jokes for the first time, Nee continued performing at open mics, comedy shows and competitions in the city. He also attended Delaware County Community College and was put on academic probation, an ironic foreshadowing for his future in comedy.
Academic Probation is a Philadelphia-based comedy group consisting of Nee and other Philadelphia-based comedians including Alex Magakis, Rick Mirarchi, Glenn Deery, Bob Kaplan and Jared Keith. About a year ago, the group performed its first show at West Chester University for about 20 people.
Since then, Academic Probation has been booked at the Trocadero Theater in Chinatown multiple times to entertain audiences of several hundred people.
It was a more intimate gathering on Friday when Academic Probation performed for an audience of about 10 people in Mitten Hall’s Owl Cove. It was also the first comedy show Elizabeth Heron, a freshman marketing major, ever attended.
“I am excited to have a good laugh tonight,” Heron said.
The event was organized by the Entertainment Business Association, a student professional organization affiliated with the Fox School of Business that educates students who are interested in the business side of the entertainment industry through networking, creative workshops and meetings with industry professionals. The comedy show on Friday was an extension of these initiatives.
“In the short term, we have the confidence and pride of knowing we organized something that has the potential to make revenue,” John Herrity, EBA’s president and a senior finance major, said. “This is something that can be replicated, something that can be done better.”
“We wanted to gain some notoriety,” added Nick Ambrogelli, EBA’s vice president and a senior physics major. “Either way, if we got two people or 200 people, we wanted to become more known.”
During his time at Temple, Herrity switched majors from music to finance. He wanted to meld his creative and professional interests, prompting him to join the EBA. As president, he tries to bring artists and business students together to network, form ideas and “start right here practicing real world skills,” Herrity said.
“In the business world, media and the arts, for some strange reason are ignored,” said Brandon Heck, a senior finance and accounting major who helped the EBA promote the Academic Probation tour. “The business world really can touch everything and no one interest should be ignored.”
Since its inception two years ago, Ambrogelli said the organization has helped to open business students’ minds and provide opportunities “for a career they’ll actually be happy with.”
“People are told you have to do this this way, this amount of times and you’ll get this,” Ambrogelli said. “Not everybody has to be an accountant and go work for an accounting firm. You could be an accountant for a record label or a movie production company. … We have a much less corralled approach.”
“You can work and make millions of dollars and be miserable because you hate what you’re doing, or you could make $50,000 and you’ll never feel like you worked a day in your life,” he added.
Nee, who remembers filming his own skits as a child with his dad’s camera, and the EBA are both focused on turning their passions into a career.
“Doing comedy was always a dream,” Nee said. “Every kid’s like, ‘Oh, I want to be a comedian or actor,’ but they just want to be famous. We just love comedy. That’s what we do.”
Grace Shallow can be reached at @firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Grace_Shallow.