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Laughing out loud with 'U' comedy club

Marlene Lacasse/Daily
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By Jackson Howard, Daily Arts Writer
Published February 28, 2013

There’s a chance you’ve seen one of the members of the LOL ROFL Comedy Club passing through the Diag, taking notes in your biology lecture or sitting next to you in a dining hall. They’re college students who go to parties, date and stress about finals. But once a week, this seemingly random and normal group of students — a frat boy, an ice skater, an engineer and more — meets in Mason Hall to tell jokes. Really, really funny jokes.

Erich Laux, the club’s co-president, is a short, unassuming Engineering junior who’s the last person you’d expect to be part of a comedy club — let alone run it. That being said, as soon as we enter into a messy, unlocked classroom on the second floor of Mason and the club meeting begins, Laux transforms from an anonymous hooded anybody to a one-man laugh track with the most genuine and full-bodied roar you’ve ever heard.

As different group members stand up to run through jokes for a performance at the BTB Cantina the next night, Laux listens attentively and is as quick to critique a joke’s punchline as he is to laugh at it. The rest of the group members are just as engaged and seem totally comfortable at both criticizing and supporting one another.

“It’s all in love,” LSA freshman Mackenzie Wolfgram tells me. “If you just say, ‘Wow that was wonderful,’ and then they go up on stage and tell a bad joke, and no one laughs, that’s much worse than getting told here.”

Two members have gone, and now it’s Wolfgram’s turn. As soon as I see him smile suavely at the group, I know it’s going to be good. He’s a freshman, yet he carries himself with the poise of a veteran, and within minutes the entire group is in an uproar. Confident and personable, Wolfgram runs through a hilarious, fluid set of relatable and quick-witted stories, and by the end I’m wiping tears out of my eyes.

Talking to Wolfgram after the meeting, I’m surprised to learn that he hadn’t done stand-up before joining the club. He noticed the club’s booth at Festifall and thought to give it a try. It’s worked out better than he expected.

“It’s really weird. It was kind of near exams last time, and you’re more focused on making your jokes funny for the show coming up than studying for your exam,” he says, smiling. “Because for the exam it’s just you, but for the jokes, you’re in front of everyone and want to impress them.”

I learn almost immediately in the meeting that there’s a major gap between being a funny person and a great comedian. It takes a special blend of personality, wit and, more than anything, confidence. Just watching the group members perform in front of one another makes my stomach churn anxiously.

“I was so nervous (when I joined). I was probably as nervous the first time standing up to tell jokes with the group than at the first show,” Wolfgram recalls.

Over the course of the meeting, there’s only one member who doesn’t perform. Instead, Michael Dawes sits happily in the corner, shouting out one-liners with ease and nodding in approval of the others’ work. I assumed he was one of the more experienced members and am shocked when he tells me that he is an LSA senior performing at his first show the next day.

“I originally got into (comedy) because my senior year in high school my buddy said, ‘Dawes, you’re a really quirky dude, which is great, but when you first meet people you cannot release the quirkiness on them immediately; you gotta internalize it and hide it until you establish your friends in college,’ ” Dawes says, laughing. “So I was like, ‘Alright, if I do stand-up, I can live my life and then that’s how I can release (the quirkiness).’ ”

Occupied with fraternity life his first three years, Dawes decided it was time for him to try something else.

“The shows are definitely the scariest things and the most fun things,” Wolfgram explains, and though I nodded in agreement, I only truly understood what he meant after what I saw happen at the Cantina the next night.

I get to Cantina five minutes before the show is scheduled to start, and the place is almost empty. A harsh white light illuminates a small wooden stage, and a handful of chairs line the front of it. The group members pace around the bar, and I start to get worried that no one will show. Slowly, though, Cantina starts to fill up, and at 9:12 p.m. the show begins.

I pass by Dawes as I take a seat. “I’m mad nervous,” he tells me, gripping a beer. “I’m drinking. I’m just gonna go up there and vomit.”

By the time the host introduces the first comedian, the room is packed. I recognize some of the members, but I’m taken aback by how much they’ve improved since the night before. Punchlines and stories that fell flat only 24 hours before have been transformed into polished sets that are making the whole crowd laugh, and it’s clear that these guys take their comedy just as seriously as their schoolwork, if not more.

Wolfgram’s name is called, and he struts to the stage with confidence. He starts off a little fast but settles into a groove within the first minute. The crowd is clapping, people are turning to their friends with “how good is this kid?” looks, and I sigh with relief.

Then comes Dawes. I rub my fingers nervously as I watch him get on stage. He stands totally rigid, holding the mic with a tense grip, and I see the anxiety in his face. Come on, Michael. You got it. I think I’m just as scared as he is.

He opens his mouth, and the first joke he tells — a self-deprecating story about his fraternity life — hits the crowd like a tidal wave. People hoot, Dawes starts to loosen up, and I even notice a middle-age couple eating dinner laughing.

He ends on a bang, and I exhale again. He survived his first show. His friends cheer with pride from a booth behind me, and the audience is clapping wildly. Dawes steps to leave the stage, and, glancing out at the crowd for a brief moment, he lets out a smile.