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Common Ground Theatre Provides a Showcase for the “Comically Challenged” to Test Their Routines

Comically Challenged

Eight new comedians converged at the Common Ground Theatre on June 14th to share their talents and dip their toe into the often cold waters of the performing world in a show entitled Comically Challenged, produced by Rus Hames. One woman and seven men braved those waters and received the benefit of testing their routines on a fairly welcoming crowd.

Rus Hames, the evening’s host and a comedian himself, told the audience that “most of us have never done this” and promised that the evening’s performance would have one goal: “to be better than clogging.” He was right. The performances were better than clogging.

First up was Emily Sharples, a thirty-something woman who admitted to living with her dog and cat, that she enjoys running and likes to go to bars. She also admitted being a recovering Facebook addict, a comment that brought understanding chuckles from the audience. Using a set of crib notes as her guide (obviously, nerves got the best of this fledgling comic), she called her detox excruciating and offered to be a sponsor for anyone else going through the throes of Facebook recovery. In closing, she offered a Serenity prayer that stated “no one needs to know what I had for dinner … [and praying for the courage] to speak face to face” with people.

Keeping up with the theme of communicating technologically, the next comedian, Jeff Day, talked about online dating, bemoaning the ways his experiences deteriorated and begging his online dates to “just say you don’t like me.” Unlike Sharples, who used her notes to keep herself organized, Day appeared to create his humor off the cuff and flipped from discussing online dating to talking about tennis, and then to a subject that appeared disconnected from everything else. His routine lacked organization, thus also lacked audience laughter.

Jeffrey Moore brought his sock puppets to the stage, making no effort to pretend that he was a ventriloquist when he had them sing “Having My Baby” to each other. The routine carried from the song into the actual delivery of another baby puppet and concluded with one puppet telling the other that “this has been the most beautiful moment of my life.” Though the silliness of puppets singing to each other brought some guffaws from the audience, it appeared Moore could have developed a more risqué routine to underscore the metaphor of two puppets giving birth.

Levi Arnold confessed to performing several times in the past (“mostly at churches”) and talked about his age (25) and liking older women. His one-liners aimed at the older women in the audience brought nervous giggles from the “women of a certain age” in the audience, as well as guffaws from the gentlemen accompanying them.

If Arnold was the youngest comedian in the group, Jon Kuczynski may be the oldest. A confessed Baby Boomer, he stated that the audience members “must have all found a Groupon somewhere” that gave them access to this show. Again, an online reference resonated with the audience. More confident than the others, Kuczinski actually interacted with the audience, particularly when a woman’s cell phone went off. His routine tended to wander a bit, like some of the others; but he ended by offering a list of rules for consignment shop hunting that concluded with “never buy something that someone can lay an egg in.”

The next performer, Steven Warnock, started his routine by saying that he’s done “standup twice.” Taking on the persona of a sportscaster for “vague news,” Warnock recycled some old jokes (i.e., “and in sports, here are the scores for today: 12-5, 8-3, 4-1.” The audience quieted during his routine and became tepid by the time he concluded.

In some respects, having comedians performing in a small space encourages them to become more participatory, but Joe Mancini, an Italian from Upstate New York, was probably not prepared for the woman crawling on the floor to get photos of him during his act. He stated “there goes half my act” as he watched her inch her way across the floor, snapping her camera as she went.

The last comedian of the evening, Dan Sipp, told the audience that he’s been improving for a long time. He talked about his dog and how he was scared of everything. “He wants to fight other dogs because he’s scared. He’s afraid of his owners, but not of strangers.” The irony of the dog’s situation was not lost on the audience, who have either had dogs like that one or relate to the fear themselves. Sipp closed the evening by stating, “You don’t have to be brave to do standup comedy. Evil Kneival is brave because he wasn’t good at it.”

The Common Ground Theatre advertised this evening’s performance with the challenge: “Laugh. We Dare You.” The audience did that, and the comedians got the practice necessary to be comfortable doing stand-up comedy. Common Ground should offer more evenings of practice for these fledgling comics. In the future, perhaps we’ll see some of them at larger venues.

COMICALLY CHALLENGED, starring Dan Sipp, Jeffery Moore, Steven Warnock, Emily Sharples, Jon Kuczynski, Joe Mancini, and Rus Hames (Russ Hames, June 14 at Common Ground Theatre in Durham, NC).






Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater reviews. She is also Dean of General Education and Developmental Studies at Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, where she oversees the theater program at the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex, and a member of the Person County Arts Council. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click To read more of her writings, click and

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