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DePaul students serious about pursuing comedy after graduation

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DePaul alumnus Cole Hersch has gained comedic success through the social media app Vine. Hersch enrolled at DePaul to be a part of Chicago’s comedy scene. (Photo courtesy of COLE HERSCH)

Between iO, The Second City and numerous other theaters throughout the city, Chicago is the home of good improv. Whether it’s your friend’s improv team, your mom’s improv team or that cute boy or girl who sits across from you in your standup comedy class, everyone seems to know someone performing comedy on the weekends. 

For some of these performers, it’s more than just a fun college gig — it’s a career. There are many DePaul students who want to jump right into this creative career, with a knack for spreading smiles.

Katie O’Reilly, a freshman, hopes to make a career out of her funny-business. She is planning to major in English with a focus on creative writing, and does standup around the city from time to time.

Her main focus is comedic writing ­— having written for DePaul’s chapter of “The Black Sheep,” a satirical magazine, in the past — but now is taking a break to focus her skillset elsewhere.

“It just always seemed like common sense to pursue comedic writing because it was the only thing I had the motivation to push myself to keep getting better at,” O’Reilly said. “To be honest, it still hasn’t totally hit me yet that it’s what I am doing. I still see my ‘career’ as something off in the far future that I’ll get around to eventually, when in reality I’m starting the work for it now.”

Preparing for a career in comedy can be difficult. There are varying opinions about what major is best, but in the end, a comedy career is dependent upon experience and practicing at places like The Playground, Annoyance Theaters, iO, MCL theaters and even to The Second City.

O’Reilly landed an internship at the iO Theater this summer, hoping to gain some experience in the comedy field outside of simply writing and performing. Before jumping into the big city atmosphere, it can help students to have a smaller place to practice their skills.

“If you’re interested in doing stand up, then first check out the comedy scene, by going to different shows and getting a feel for it,” professor Kevin Bozeman, who teaches a course on standup hoping to provide that space for students, said.

“Second, decide what kind of comedian you want to be,” he said. “You may not be able to answer that question, but that’s okay.”

Bozeman has been a nationally touring standup comedian for 17 years. He has been seen on Comedy Central, CBS, Fox and most recently NBC’s “Last Comic Standing.”

While having larger venues and media outlets can certainly jump start a career in comedy, comedians don’t have to be big to make it where they want to be.

DePaul graduate Cole Hersch has shown this through his success on the social media app, Vine. Hersch graduated DePaul in June 2015 with a degree in English and a concentration in creative writing, just as O’Reilly plans to do. He came to school in Chicago specifically to get involved in the comedy scene, immediately signing up for classes at The Second City.

Hersch’s success on Vine has helped catapult him to where he wants to go, as comedy slowly becomes a career for him. However, he  said that succeeding in comedy online isn’t the only hurdle to jump over in this field.

“What’s most important for me is not only finding a unique voice, but finding something unique that hasn’t been said before,” Hersch said.

“Additionally, I think if you are going to post stuff online that you think is funny, you need to spend some time performing on a stage,” he said. “Both are two completely separate beasts of the comedy world, and if you want to be considered a comedian, I see it only fair that you experience both. You need a genuine, real-time reaction from a room of people to know if the stuff you’re saying is funny.”

There may not be one single, great way to prepare for a future in the comedy industry. But O’Reilly, Bozeman and Hersch, although all different in their experience and preferred medium of comedy, can all agree on one thing: practice and confidence will get you where you want to go, in any field. Comedy is no different from this.

“Write, write and write, and then perform, perform and perform, and then write some more and then perform some more,” Bozeman said.

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