■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
If it happens anywhere, it will eventually find the road to Hemet. When church collaborates with comedy and veterans and actors assemble in our valley, eyes open and ears perk up. Thus, we have the essence of an unusual story.
It all began when Pastor Ricky Jones from the San Jacinto Assembly of God contacted First Vice Commander Russ Mills at American Legion Post 53 in Hemet with a novel idea. Would the Legion be interested in establishing comedy and acting schools at Post 53? It just so happens that Jones is also the manager of Liam Breunle, who is known as “The Cleanest Comedian in Hollywood.”
“There is a lot of undiscovered talent in this valley,” explained Jones, “and, knowing the Legion’s interest in youth and families, I believe a school for acting and clean comedy would fit right into the Legion’s programs.”
Indeed it would, agreed Mills and Third Vice Commander Joe Males, public relations director for Post 53. Mills felt that would fit into the Post’s ongoing schedule and would certainly benefit the community. “We could become the founders of ‘Stars of the Darkness’, talented folks that no one ever heard of. There are possible super stars here that remain to be discovered.” That could bring Hollywood agents here, rather than potential actors and comedians having to drive all the way to Hollywood to be seen and heard by a professional agent.
Much was discussed about the state of comedy today. According to Breunle, “The comedy world is upside down now. Clubs have been allowing smut on their stages and calling it comedy. That’s starting to change. Club owners are starting to wise up. If they find a comedian is into drugs or the gutter, they are less likely to hire that person. In order to make it in comedy today, you have to play the circuit. I can’t think of any show today with guys like Seinfeld who would work a show for a year and all of the sudden get a television show. Reputation is important.”
“The crux of comedians has become female body parts and genitalia. Any real comedian knows that you don’t have to be profane to be funny. Actually, it is just the opposite. It’s okay to be a bit blue. Some dark comedy is okay, but you don’t cross the line into the gutter. That will kill a career.”
Russ Mills explained how it will work. “We are set up here at the Post to accommodate an eight week course, followed by a show that will give the students a chance to perform. We’ll bring in two or three headliners, promote the show to agents, and charge a minimal admission fee. When our students perform, the agents who come will see what we have to offer. It also gives the local community a chance to see the results of our efforts.” Liam’s take on it, “We’ll pack this place.”
The current plan is to begin with comedy and Breunle will teach the first eight week course for potential comedy students who are age 18 or older. In the future, possibly other professional comedians will be brought in to teach as well. “As for the acting course,” Breunle says, “that will get started a bit later and Tamiyka White, with 15 years experience in Hollywood, will be teaching all ages, which should draw an abundance of anxious potential actors.”
Breunle explained several proposed aspects of comedy that will be taught during the eight weeks. “Stage presence, writing material discipline, and delivery of lines is how we’ll begin. Many headliners get dropped out of competition because they become lax and are unable to deliver a half hour set or become stagnant. Emotion and feeling is also important. I’ll be teaching students how to have a dialog with the audience and how to work a crowd.”
Some comedians, Breunle says, cannot work a crowd. “There is a way to make the audience feel that they are part of the dialogue even when there isn’t any dialogue. And there is the politics of comedy.” Learning how to hang on in a business that has a lot of cut-throats is tricky.
“When comedians first start out, they’ve got to get up on stage every single night and deliver lines, so it is important to keep writing and learning as they go. When they bomb at an open-mike event, get over it. That’s a part of learning. Jerry Seinfeld bombed the first three times he performed. Even the best fall flat on their lines from time to time.”
“You may have a good joke, but deliver it badly. One has to learn the ins and outs of becoming an on-stage comedian. Getting laughs from friends as you deliver a joke between slugs of beer may not work the same when you tell the same joke before an audience,” said Breunle.
According to the comedian, self-deprecation jokes are the best when you approach an audience. That draws the audience into the act because it makes them feel you are just like them.
“Surprise and mis-direction are important to a comedian. If you don’t have those two elements, you don’t have a good joke. Delivery and timing is the essence of great comedy.” Liam Breunle should know because he is a master at timing.
A good comedian can be on stage four minutes and not say a word and still have the audience in stitches. It is okay, sometimes, to not open your mouth. One of the greatest comedians of all times, Charlie Chaplin, created howls of laughter without ever opening his mouth. Of course, if you don’t believe in yourself, you are likely to fall flat on your face.
This sounds like a big undertaking, and it is. Time will tell the results, but if your best friend’s son or daughter suddenly jumps into the headlines as the latest star of the comedy club, you may start bragging, “Well I declare. I always knew that kid was funny, but the Comedy Club? Whoever would have imagined that!”
Imagine a legitimate school for acting and comedy in Hemet. Just sayin’.
Rusty Strait is a senior reporter for the Valley Chronicle and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.