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SEVEN DAYS | april 09-16, 2008 | feature 29A The routines largely fall into the “observational” category of standup and often deal with the peculiarities of life in the Green Mountains. Jokes range from general — and frankly, somewhat obvious — ruminations on the unpredictability and borderline cruelty of winter in Vermont, to more specific and intimate tales of small town living. Like, for example, a bit delivered by a veteran area schoolteacher lamenting how frequently she encounters her former students in “real life” situations. The joke culminates in a wince-inducing — and genuinely hysterical — visit to her gynecologist’s office. Straight-faced, Leavitt follows each set with critique and insight into how the comics can strengthen their performances. Her recommendations cover everything from simple technical adjustments, such as altering microphone placement or slowing the delivery, to more subtle nuances of performance, such as pausing for emphasis and giving the audience time to appreciate a joke before moving on. But most importantly, Leavitt acts as an editor, helping her students pare each joke down to its bare essentials. In comedy, less is almost always more. “I just help them tell a good joke,” she says. “Everybody has a funny story in them. Sometimes what makes them not funny is that they’re giving way too much detail. One of the things I tell my students is to pay attention to the feedback I’m giving everybody else. I don’t need to know that you couldn’t get a parking spot at the airport parking garage. I need to know what happened on the plane. “You just really teach people the economy of a joke,” Leavitt continues. “The setup and punch line. Through performing over and over again, they really get the sense that ‘Wow, this is a much better joke if I cut out a lot of the crap.’” But before they can trim the fat, Leavitt’s students need a solid understanding of what makes something funny. To help them discover fertile ground for mining tension, she assigns them a series of guided exercises. “What have you struggled with this week?” she asks. “What do you struggle with on an ongoing basis? What are the holidays like at your house? What do you need to complain about today? What’s your husband been like? What’s your wife like? Are your kids driving you crazy? “What’s funny isn’t you having a great day,” Leavitt explains. “What’s funny is you having a bad day. Struggle is where the humor is.” She goes on: “Struggle creates the tension, and the tension gets released by a laugh. So, without the tension, you’re just telling a story. But any story can be filled with tension if you set it up the right way.”

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Leavitt knows what she’s talking about. She began doing standup in 1993 after taking a comedy class in her native New York City, then performed regularly at venues such as Caroline’s, >> 30A

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Seven Days, April 9, 2008  

Why Natalie Garza Won’t Give Up the Seach for Her Son; Breaking Down the Compost Saga; Youngest House Representative Faces an Old Battle; Ea...

Seven Days, April 9, 2008  

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