DePaul student comedians produce stand-up show, Undergrad Underground

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DePaul student comedians produce stand-up show, Undergrad Underground

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It takes a certain type of person to dive into the world of standup comedy, a fierce environment dependent upon applause and laughter in order for survival. For some, being stranded alone on a stage with only a microphone as a crowd hungry for laughter surrounds them might be their worst nightmare. But for three DePaul students, it’s a dream come true. 

With weekly gigs in addition to open mic nights, DePaul sophomores Martin O’Connor, Josh Ejnes and senior Jaboukie Young-White have experienced their fair share of life behind the mic. As producers of the Playground Theater’s newest standup show — Undergrad Underground — the three DePaul students, along with a student from Columbia College, have given aspiring comedians the opportunity for that life in finding and choosing a different lineup of standup comics every Thursday night.

“When you’re producing, your job is mostly to focus on the other performers,” O’Connor said. “One of us will be on stage every other week, but as producers we’re out at open mic nights looking for talent and making sure we’re going to be putting on a good show.”

While their center of attention isn’t primarily on their own jokes behind the microphone, they’ve certainly been there before. As with every comedian, their very first time on stage in front of an audience — good or bad — was unforgettable.    

For Young-White, it was a night he still remembers fondly. 

“I’ll always remember that night, my first try at standup,” Young-White said. “It was god-awful. I don’t remember saying a word up there. I swear they gave me a little notebook after the show because they felt bad.”

In contrast to the cutthroat stand up competition and environment in cities like New York and Los Angeles, Chicago finds itself to be more friendly. With shows like Undergrad Underground and open mic nights — where comedians can test their jokes out with other comedians — the city has paved its way as an open door to aspiring standup comics. 

An open door Ejnes took when he transferred to DePaul from University of Missouri in hope to find more standup opportunities.

“I’d say Chicago’s the best place to start really, there’s no one definite industry here,” Ejnes said. “All the mics are close to each other, and of course it can still get competitive sometimes, but it’s never extreme. The majority of people in Chicago aren’t doing standup full time. I’d say it’s really friendly.”

“In cities like New York, you can bomb one night and sometimes they’ll always remember you for it,” O’Connor said.

That isn’t to say Chicago comics are free of either criticism or judgment.

“My mom,” O’Conner said about being told comedy isn’t his trade. said laughing.  “She’s definitely told me that once or twice.  And how do I take it, well I got my own show with these guys.”

And like that, with each gig and every show, those nerves they once had lessened. 

With each laugh and every applause, there’d been a reassurance of being behind that mic, a type of purpose for them three. 

“You go up on that stage so many times you eventually become numb to the anxiety, and that is such an important part of being able to be a comedian,” Young-White said.

“I mean everyone still gets nerves,” Ejnes said. “You’re making up and writing new jokes every day and you should be trying them out every night. Whether they fail or not to make people laugh is the entire point, so don’t worry about it.”

“The way I look at it is when you’re on that stage behind the mic, you’re the student. And your audience is your teacher,” O’Connor said.

Undergrad Underground is at the Playground Theater every Thursday at 10 p.m.