A lone microphone stands at the front of the room. A group of students stare forward with glazed eyes as the announcer calls up the next comedian. A person walks to the mic, armed with only their jokes and fortune to stand between laughter and silence. This is the life of the Temple University Comedy Club.
The organization was first started in 2008, Chris Whitehair, the current president of TU Comedy and a senior advertising major, said.
“I discovered TU Comedy in 2010-11 during a year when the club was next to dead,” Whitehair said. “We didn’t have a leader, meetings weren’t helping anybody make progress, attendance was down, there was no outlet for us to get our comedy to the students on [Main] Campus. The club was on the verge of calling it quits.”
Since then, Whitehair and Alex Grubard, a sophomore English major, have made it their mission to put new life into the club. The revived club’s first directions did not come in the most organized way.
“It was just like a bunch of us sneaking into a room,” Grubard said. “We didn’t reserve it. Commandeering is what we called it.”
Starting off with open mics on Liacouras Walk in 2011, comedians, like senior journalism major Tommy Touhill, got an outlet for their comedy.
“I knew I wanted to be a comedian. I knew I was going to Temple University,” Touhill said. “I came and it was a lot of fun. It was nice to connect with comedians who also had a bad set one night and talk about it.”
In the first months of TU Comedy’s restoration, attendance was low and turnout was sporadic, but the club took the time to invite new talent and set up shows.
“It was a rebuilding year for us and the club, but we found that comedy has always had a place at Temple University,” Whitehair said.
The club’s first engagement under its current president was an open mic just off of Liacouras Walk in the Founder’s Garden during the first week of school in the Spring 2012 semester. Since it was still relatively new, TU Comedy went to the place students naturally walk.
“The club was without a designated space to use for meetings at the time, so we chose to do an outdoor show,” Whitehair said. “We’ve done this in the past, but not like this.”
The first performance had a showing of approximately 45 students to watch the comedian’s innaugural appearance of the year.
The club has come a long way since it was commandeering rooms and outdoor space to have weekly meetings. TU Comedy now has a regular room in Ritter Hall — room 300 — where the organization has comedy shows.
“We have called the show ‘Sit Up Front,’” Whitehair said. “We bark for an hour on campus before the show to spread awareness and convince students to give [us] their attention for an hour a week. Sometimes we convince 50 people, other times we convince five. It varies from week to week, but we always give a good show to those who decide to show up.”
On Nov. 27, the club held an open mic comedy event at Johnson & Hardwick residence halls. About 30 students were present in the audience and many onlookers stood by to watch the comedians.
Whitehair said the comedians themselves have grown along with the club.
“Many comedians in the club just started writing and performing this semester and watching them grow has been one of the most enjoyable experiences of being a part of this club,” Whitehair said.
If you ask the comedians why, they’ll say it’s all worth it.
“Around the age of 10 or 11, you kind of decide in your head, ‘I kind of want to be funny,’” Touhill said. “You’re kind of obnoxious for a while, but then you start to hone in on things.”
Touhill said he finds comedy hard but rewarding and it’s an art that he continues to pursue.
“Comedy, a lot of it is about surprise, and it is hard when they’re like, ‘I know a joke is coming,’” Touhill said.
“I think it’s just you don’t know how to do anything else,” Grubard said. “If you knew how to play guitar, you’d play guitar. If you knew how to paint a picture, you’d paint a picture.”
Since starting to perform comedy, Grubard has played in clubs in New York, moving up to the bar scene when he was old enough to enter one.
“It’s your last defense. You just have whatever’s coming out your mouth to get you out of the situation 10 seconds at a time,” Grubard said.
To Grubard, comedy is a belief system, his method of his ideas and the world to others.
“It’s so rewarding in a short amount of time. It’s for people that want it now,” Grubard said.
To Whitehair, comedy is his life.
“It’s more than a form of entertainment, a defense mechanism or a career path; it’s a lifestyle and a universal language,” Grubard said. “I find humor in everything I do, and everything [people] do.”
Whitehair, in his final year at Temple, said he prefers to enjoy his time with the club now rather than stress about the future.
“Truth be told, I’m only concerned with the present,” Whitehair said. “I always want there to be a place for TU Comedy at Temple University, and I believe there will be.”
Despite his quickly arriving departure, Whitehair still sees TU Comedy as the air he breathes.
“One day I hope to support myself and my family with the jokes I write,” Whitehair said. “I eat, sleep and breathe funny business.”
Omari Coleman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.