As a computer engineering major at Iowa State University set to begin as a software developer for Google in the spring, it’s safe to say that Curtis Ullerich was not the class clown in school.
But last week, before an audience of more than 50 in a popular ISU nightclub, Ullerich, 22, stood behind a microphone, in the glare of the spotlight, and rattled off a string of jokes.
“Is anyone else more of a Netflix marathoner?” Ullerich said as he began his standup routine, which also served as his final exam for ISU’s inaugural Comedy College honors course.
The class, which debuted this fall, taught ISU honors students how to write and tell jokes in a standup format, improve their sense of humor and use comedy in everyday life.
“The class description originally did not say that we would be doing a stand up routine as our final for the class — so that was a bit of a surprise,” Ullerich said. “I don’t know for sure that I would have taken it if I knew that. But I’m glad I did.”
In its first semester, the course quickly filled up with its maximum 17 students and then attracted a wait list. Its professors — a sort of “odd couple” including ISU economics professor Peter Orazem and professional entertainer and humor instructor Gavin Jerome — said every student had a different reason for signing up.
Comedy in general is not new to ISU junior Bohan Li, 21, who used to perform in variety shows and comedy plays in China before coming to the United States in 2011. But what is new to Li is American humor, which is why he signed up for ISU’s comedy class.
“I’m using it to improve in social situations,” Li said. “I thought the comedy college could introduce me to informal American culture and be useful for my career going forward.”
Li has no plans to become a standup comic — he’s on track to become a mechanical engineer. But he wants to stay in the United States and begin working after graduation, and he sees the value in humor.
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