"I wish germs didn't exist because then there'd be free gum everywhere." — Giles Henderson, 19 (Porter, theater major with a film minor, 2014)
Daniel Pasenelli, Winston Andrus, Steve Krause and Giles Henderson are sitting around a table outside the Cowell Coffee Shop cracking each other up. They're telling stories about a screenplay one of them wants to write about superheroes with such mundane powers they have to go to a support group. Of jotting down killer punch lines but forgetting the setup later. Of having a show canceled because the venue wasn't able to get equipment on time.
"I mean, what do you need for a standup show?" asks Henderson, shaking his dread-locked head. "I could cup my hands around my mouth and that would be enough."
The guys howl.
That's what it's like to hang around four members of UCSC's Slug Stand-Up squad, an organization that has been around campus for three or four years, but has only 12 weeks of official status. In a joke-laden, 90-minute interview, the guys recount how Slug Stand-Up made it into the finals of RooftopComedy's National College Comedy Competition last year, of how its former members are doing stand-up at clubs around California, of what it's like to be alone on stage and bare your soul while trying to keep the microphone from shaking like a maraca in your hand, and of how everything is worth it — just to make people laugh.
"I went through this big Gothic phase. Not the attitude or the clothes or the music. I just lived in a castle." — Steve Krause, 21 (Stevenson, economics/environmental studies, 2013)
The guys — there are no women in the group at the moment — say Slug Stand-Up was created as a safe place for comedy on campus, an outgrowth of a former UCSC stand-up class taught by comedian Doug Holsclaw. But it's also a venue where members can brainstorm, practice their timing, and try out new jokes in the company of friends.
"So much of comedy is experiential learning," says Andrus, who sports a button-down shirt and tie. The more time they have on stage, he says, the better comedians they become.
The members of Slug Stand-Up list their inspirations as comedians like Robin Williams, Louis C.K., Eugene Mirman and Emo Philips. But their comedy, they say, comes from their own lives.
Henderson believes his best jokes are based in his youth, growing up as a small, multi-racial kid who was bullied a lot. He proceeds to tell a story about foiling the efforts of his nemesis to knock him to the ground while gliding around a gym on inline skates. They other guys choke with laughter.
Krause says his sense of the absurd comes from being raised in the bland sameness of Menlo Park and wonders why Metro buses scroll the date and year across the LED screen in between stops. "I mean, how long are they going to keep me there?"
For Andrus, it was the fact he was an overachieving, overweight kid that spurs his comedy, he says. "I'm really in tune with my body," he professes as the others explode with laughter.
And, of course, there's always what the guys say is their inability to get dates or extract themselves from awful romantic entanglements.
"We rely on a lot of self-deprecation," Henderson says.
"A lot of comedians really hate themselves," Krause deadpans.
"I like to watch "Cats 101" on television but I think they need "Cats 201" or "Cats 280 Senior Thesis." I mean, what if my cat started dealing heroin?" — Daniel Pasenelli, 19 (Porter, film, 2015)
The conversation drifts toward the serious as the late-afternoon sun drops behind the trees, and the guys explain why stand-up is important.
For Krause, it's the idea that his generation may see the end of more participatory live performances and move toward more passive mediums like video. "I think it's cool to be (telling jokes) in front of people. It's a visceral experience."
Henderson believes stand-up is an important tool for political discourse "in an easy-to-swallow tablet" and cites comedians like George Carlin and Dave Chappelle as evidence.
Pasenelli chimes in that comedy reveals things about human nature that are hidden or are forbidden topics. "Comedians are modern-day philosophers," he says.
"I think comedians are like psychologists without a degree," Andrus adds. "When comedy is at its best, it challenges those in the audience to be a better person."
"I apologize way too much, and for that I am sorry." — Winston Andrus, 21 (Stevenson, history with a literature minor, 2013)
To find out more about Slug Stand-Up and its performances, check out its Facebook page.