Kids take this class just for laughs

Bella English
December 18, 2003

Derek West took to the stage to the roar of the crowd, expertly removed the mike from its cradle, and began cracking on the school cafeteria food. "You ever had a school hot dog before?" he asked. "Once, I took that hot dog and threw it on the floor, and it bounced back up on the plate.

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"At recess, when we played `Off the Wall,' instead of using a ball, we used a school hot dog.

"Then I threw it at my friend's head, and it knocked him out."

Maybe you had to be 12 years old and a regular consumer of school hot dogs to laugh hysterically, but then, the crowd was pretty much 12 years old and regular consumers of school hot dogs. They cracked up.

West and his friends might not be ready for "Saturday Night Live" yet, but they filled the Blarney Stone on Dorchester Avenue Tuesday night, billing themselves as "The Kids of Comedy." The event was planned by students at the Grover Cleveland Middle School -- the so-called "world food" prepared by students and the entertainment provided by students. The food consisted of fried rice, chips and salsa, and quesadillas.

The event was sponsored by Citizen Schools, a nonprofit that places volunteer professionals in city schools for after-school classes. One of the classes was taught by Corey Manning and Chris Tabb, two very funny guys who are regulars on the Boston comedy circuit.

For 10 weeks, the duo worked with 10 students, teaching them the basics of being funny: finding material, writing jokes, timing, and delivery.

Oh, and stage presence. Never mind that the Blarney Stone "stage" was a pool table covered with a heavy piece of board. Rodrigo Monteiro, 12, got a huge laugh right off the bat when he did a pratfall, Chevy Chase style, up the stage steps. Then he took pokes at his little brother, who, he said, reminded him of the rap artist Fabulous: "He's got a big old watch and one of the biggest chipped tooths, I ain't lying." The brother might not have appreciated it, but the other kids did.

Next up was sixth-grader Kholton Pascal, who obviously knew how to warm up a crowd. First, he asked the audience if anyone had a sister. Then, he asked if any of the women or girls present had hair extensions or weaves. One brave woman raised her hand. Pascal continued: "I went to a friend's house today, and his sister has a weave. I told her to give that horse back his hair. Y'all got your own hair. Why you wanna take the horse's hair?"

The crowd loved it.

Before the performance was over, the kids had made fun of their teachers, their families (many in the audience cheering them on), and their school. West acknowledged being nervous beforehand, but he had a backup plan in case no one laughed at his jokes: "I'll laugh real loud myself."

Danaisa Brown, who told jokes about her little sister, said she loved the comedy class because she learned self-confidence.

Pascal said he loved performing because "I felt like a star when people were laughing at me." But he was sorry he didn't include his little-sister joke. It goes like this: "My mom always goes to yard sales. My little sister says, `Why you want to buy a yard? You don't have no place to put

it.' " Ba da boom!

As for the teachers, they were proud of their charges. "This is far beyond what I expected," said Tabb, a semifinalist at this year's Boston Comedy Festival. "Stand-up is so much more than just telling jokes. It's about using your words and mind as opposed to using your fists or weapons."

Added Manning: "A lot of these kids are the class clowns. We tell them, `Instead of acting out in class, write it down, and save it for the stage.' "


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