What do four freshman, two juniors, one graduate student and a member of Residence Life have in common? They each took the stage with one objective in mind: make people laugh.
Having kicked off on Sept. 25 at Rowan University, the first annual New Jersey Comedy Festival competition made its way to Rider’s very own Pub this past Wednesday in search of the Garden State’s funniest college student.
The contestants — graduate student Wally Miranda; Jamiyl Mosley, area director of Residence Life; juniors Jason Sofia and Ryan Kincade and freshmen Casey Langweiler, Mark Galarrita, Amanda Arena and Robert Gray — were judged on material, originality, audience reaction and stage presence.
Dennis Hedlund, the festival’s chair and former stand-up comedian, said that he wanted to provide an opportunity for students with entertainment aspirations to gain experience in the field of humor.
“I remember when it was just a concept in July,” he said. “Now, it’s mid-November and we have seen pleasing progress after such a tough climb.”
With 12 colleges involved and spaces for only 36 finalists, the competition is tight. Rider’s participants stood before five celebrity judges — comedian Robert Klein, Voice of the Friar’s Club Barry Dougherty, Last Comic Standing finalist Michelle Balan, and The Sopranos’ Frank Albanese and Dan Grimaldi.
Inspired by comedians Eddie Murphy and George Lopez, Miranda cracked jokes at the mentality of college males. Surprisingly, Miranda signed up for the competition to overcome a fear of public speaking; it was his first time performing stand-up comedy.
With about a year of experience in stand-up comedy, Sofia, a Political Science major, based his material on personal life experiences.
“I like to make people laugh,” he said. “If you ain’t laughin’, you ain’t livin’. I just go up there and go with the flow. It’s never the same thing twice.”
Tossing jokes from just about every subject, including Smurfs, the difficulties of getting acquainted with college restrooms, the reasons why Brad Pitt left Jennifer Aniston for Angelina Jolie and why peanut butter is a legitimate gift in lieu of a promise ring (it’s the gift that keeps on giving), contestants faced a tough crowd.
“Comedy is no place for someone who bleeds easy,” Hedlund said. “The audience is very demanding and can tell when you come prepared and when you haven’t come prepared. A good comic is original, is able to handle an audience, and is able to act on the spur of the moment.”
Arena’s Math Skills Lab monologue, Sofia’s Catholic pun and Kincade’s rendition of Irish heritage not only drew resounding laughs from the crowd, but the votes of the judges; they were named the winning finalists for the event.
“It was nerve-wracking,” Arena said. “Yet it was thrilling, like it was something I shouldn’t be doing but kept doing anyway. I had a lot of fun.”
All three will move on to compete in Monmouth University’s finals round for a trip to Cancun, Mexico, a scholarship to the American Comedy Institute, personal comic training and $1,000 at the competition’s final stop on Dec. 8.
“My advice to the finalists is to be persistent, write their own material, pick a target, aim and do not let anything stop you,” Hedlund said.