There’s been a forked Covid bone stuck deep in the collective throat of Hudson Valley residents over the last two years, and Lauren Kincheloe says she wants it out.
Her plan for an amateur near-tonsillectomy?
A comedy school held in the Stockade Tavern, an uptown Kingston locals bar of note, once a week for six weeks and culminating with a night of standup performed by her student body for the masses.
“The baseline of anxiety that everybody’s been walking around with in the pandemic,” says Kincheloe, “the things that we struggle with, are what yield something that people are really gonna laugh at, you know? Because we’re looking for that release. That’s why people go to comedy shows, to achieve this sort of catharsis. And what we’re laughing at is pain. Strife is just comedy waiting to happen.”
Kincheloe was born in San Francisco to parents who were musicians. Her mother also operated a restaurant called the “Daily Lunch Special” in the Tenderloin district.
The family eventually swapped coasts, then moved to the Catskills. Kincheloe, the oldest of four children, spent her formative years in Delaware County.
When she was 17, itinerancy in the blood took hold. “I fled to New York City as soon as I could,” she said, “and fell in with the off-Broadway theater scene. And the off-off-Broadway theater scene.”
NYC, LA and Athens
Gravitating towards musicals and comedy, she acted and produced in a theater company called 3rd Man Productions.
“I did some Shakespeare, too,” she said. “I don’t know how relevant that is. But Shakespeare’s funny.”
After a decade in New York City, Kincheloe moved back out west to Los Angeles. “I did a lot of commercial work, but I really loved the intersection of writing and performing that is standup comedy. I’ve always been interested in writing, but writing is so solitary and, um, I’m clearly a show pony.
When someone is performing standup comedy, it seems like, it’s extemporaneous, which is a really fun word, but for any couple of jokes that land in the comic set, there’s so much writing behind it. And it’s teachable. I mean, any good joke really is just a surprise. It’s a premise and then a metaphor mix-up, then an act-out — like a performance of the situation — and then a surprise.”
In the golden age of classical Greece, drama and comedy were concepts so popular that Aristotle endeavored to write the particulars of each, contained in a sort of instruction manual, a treatise on poetry known as The Poetics.
The discussion of comedy, if it was ever written down at all, has not survived. All that remains for the apt pupil are scattered hints in the first few pages before his discussions of tragedy and epic poetry begin. Aristotle found it likely that comedians at their origin were “actors expelled from the cities as unworthy of recognition … who wandered thenceforth from district to
Comedy compared to tragedy, thought Aristotle, was “an imitation of cheaper, more ordinary people, which involves some kind of blunder or ugliness which does not cause pain or disaster.”
It does not remain to us to know definitively which discipline he thought more difficult.
Lauren Kincheloe chooses comedy. “I just think you have to be smarter to make somebody laugh,” she explained, “To make them cry, you know, like you could like kill a kitten and someone’s gonna cry, but to really tell a good joke you gotta be smarter.”
In Athens only males were encouraged to attend. Kincheloe’s Idea of a comedy school is different. She wants as diverse a population as possible. “I mean, I would love to have a really wide age range. I would love to have people from not-America,” she said. “You know, the more diverse, the better jokes we’re gonna get out of everybody. It’s a workshop in that everyone is going to be pitching jokes for everyone, and the more different we are, race, age, gender, the more interesting it will be. It’s super-personal, so my material and your material would never be the same. So in giving somebody else a joke or learning to write a joke for somebody else who has a different set of circumstances and challenges is just great. You’re gonna be talking about your body. You’re gonna be talking about your relationships, your labels, or identities, your family, um, and your struggles. Those are the things that are funny and interesting.”
Your garbage is gold
In golden-age Athens, it was taught that comedy originated from Composer-leaders of phallic song rites who performed during festivals. Their improvised sets involved ribald songs or recitations with fetishized phalluses on goat-drawn floats for brandished decoration.
Then there were burlesques, a sort of bawdy drama acted with jokes and vulgar language. Homer, it was recorded, was the first to give the world the general outlines of comedy by writing dramatic imitations of the humorous rather than the malevolent satire that was then the norm.
Functioning at the intersection of a performance art responsive to the audience and therefore different every time, comedy simultaneously has a static, purely intellectual component. In modern times, comics hone their craft amongst ubiquitous recording devices aimed at them, a storage cloud which never forgets a misstep and a vengeful and unforgiving cultural commentariat to whom a joke is never just a joke.
Which is funny.
Lampooning, which is to publicly criticize someone by using ridicule, irony or sarcasm, remains with us still and needs no festival.
“It just has to be a super-safe space where people understand what we’re up to,” Kincheloe said. In her vision of comedy, politics and religion are essential rather than verboten. “A comic always wants to be sympathetic, the comic is the underdog, so it’s never gonna be your political opinion that you’re offering. They wanna know, you know, what was scary or difficult for you about voting or whatever. Like if you can write a good joke, it’s gonna transcend political opinion, the things that we struggle with are, are what yields something that people are really gonna laugh at …. We’re emotional strippers, and your garbage, your garbage is gold.”
The class starts the second week of March. But first Kincheloe and her partner have to board a cruise ship, seeking adventure in the Bahamas.
“I dunno if that’s funny or not. The tickets were a gift. And it’s cold here. We’re vaccinated and boosted. I’ve been to the omicronigynecologyst. Oh, that’s the other thing. Vaccination is not optional! I’m sorry, otherwise I have to ask the unvaccinated person to provide a negative Covid test every time. It’s just so that everybody in the class feels safe. We really need [that], it needs to be like a trust-tree up in there.”
For information about joining the inaugural comedy workshop of Squalid Gold can contact Lauren Kincheloe through her email email@example.com or her Instagram.
Footage exists forever on You Tube of Kincheloe performing standup at the HaHaClub in North Hollywood in 2017 for the entertainment and scandalized outrage of all.