London Times feature on our classes

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London Times does a feature on our classes


No one doubts the virtues of Spanish classes, piano lessons and the workshops where girls learn to write computer code. But for New York parents who fret that their children do not quite fit in at school and who hope to turn this into a strength, there is another after-school class in a dimly lit cellar just off Broadway.

There, on a Saturday at noon, as men carry crates of beer bottles to a store room, a group of children aged 6 to 11 gather for instruction from an amiable man in a black T-shirt. “The second you get off stage, think about what worked and what didn’t,” he tells them. They should consider their “set-ups”, he says. “What was slow? What wasn’t funny?”

This is a children’s stand-up comedy class: another sign of the steady evolution of the art form from a fringe activity to a profession so respectable that even Manhattan parents want their children to learn it. “My son just started,” says Nastasia Avrutin, a young mother sitting in the hall outside. “He’s always been the class clown. This is a terrific outlet for him to explore that.”

Children are taught to embrace the world at Broadway Comedy Club. Death scenes are frowned upon
Children are taught to embrace the world at Broadway Comedy Club. Death scenes are frowned upon
I had arrived with a nine-year-old girl called Alice, the daughter of a friend. “It’s a good place to go, even though it’s usually a comedy club for adults,” Alice tells me on the way. I ask her about her influences, the comedians she admires. “Jim Gaffigan,” she says. “My mum only lets me watch him because he doesn’t swear.”

Walter Frasier, 47, the comedian who runs Improv 4 Kids, tells the class to “observe your world” and to keep a journal. He asks them for some recent observations. “My dad has flooded two Airbnb houses,” says the oldest boy, who is eleven. “Not one, but two.” He pauses. “One, I get. But two?”

“That sounds like a good routine,” Mr Frasier says. “Yeah! I’m going to do it,” the boy replies.

They play some improvisation games. “No more killing,” Mr Frasier tells the children during a group storytelling exercise, as they keep steering their character towards a violent death. “Death in an improv sketch is the end of the sketch. So try and keep death and killing out of it.”

He also has to lay down the law with a six-year-old who keeps disrupting the class. “But it’s a comedy club,” the little boy says. “We can do whatever we want.” “OK, so you’re a heckler, you’re not a comedian,” Mr Frasier says. “I can’t run a class like this.”

He gets them back on track and the children perform their material. Fathers take a bit of a beating; so do siblings. Alice does a routine about her efforts to be a vegetarian. “Vegetarians are super annoying,” she says. “I’m practising to be more annoying.”

Alice’s mother says that her daughter sometimes seemed “a little spacey”. She says: “It’s been helpful for her to have this reason to be more alert to the world.”

Doesn’t she worry, as a parent, that she could become the target? “Completely,” she replies, and tells me about a routine that Alice does, on how her dad worries about things that are dangerous but unlikely, like a shark attack, while her mother panics about “things that are not dangerous but are very, very likely, like having jam on my school blouse”.

Her mother pauses for a beat. “She does it so much better.”