“My grandma is one of those people who has no filter,” says freshman Logan Carr-Howard staring out at the crowd of drunken, middle-aged comedians. “I mean, she even told my best friend her dog was heading towards the same fate as Marley, in ‘Marley and Me’,” he continues into the silence, fidgeting onstage. He stands before the crowd as a lanky, 15-year-old kid at the Second City Comedy theatre — the same theater that Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Stephen Colbert and countless other performers began their careers at. Carr-Howard is the only kid out of his youth summer camp at Second City to show up to the open mic night.
All night, as each adult comedian stepped onstage, their eyes would scan the crowd and linger on the mom, dad and two teenagers sitting in the audience. They would make disclaimers before jokes, not wanting to offend Carr-Howard and his family. One even asked why this kid was “up past his bedtime.” But following Carr-Howard’s performance, the feedback he received from the fellow comedians was overwhelmingly positive. They coached him, suggesting he slow down, take pauses in appropriate places, breathe and keep his nerves in check.
Some kids have sports, others have music or art, but Carr-Howard has comedy. He can spend up to five hours a week researching funny current events for sketches and watching Saturday Night Live or Louie C.K. But coming up with jokes, even for stand-up, takes more than just an ability to improvise. Carr-Howard has to constantly be thinking of material that could make an audience laugh, and has done sketches ranging from awkward mix-ups at a funeral to a cat becoming mayor of Alaska. He polishes his talent by participating in an exclusive class at the Coterie Theater, and through his summer experience at The Second City.
“[Comedy] is very nerve wracking, but it’s exhilarating,” Carr-Howard said. “It’s something that I’m super passionate about, and it’s really amazing to make someone laugh and forget and be happy.”
As a child, Carr-Howard always gravitated towards humor. He read Judy Blume and Captain Underpants, and looked for opportunities to make his family and friends laugh. His mother, Kim Carr-Howard, describes it as an innate ability to find humor in everyday events.
“He was always able to see things in a funny way that other people don’t necessarily see it.” Kim said. “He can say things in a funny way without being hurtful to people, and he’s not afraid to make fun of himself, which makes other people comfortable.”
That desire to make people laugh is one of Carr-Howard’s favorite parts of comedy. To him, the power of laughter can help relieve stress and even help a friend through a difficult time. When a friend of his had a brother struggling with a brain tumor, Carr-Howard cherished the opportunities he found to make his friend laugh, and forget about the hardships he was going through in life.
To practice jokes, Carr-Howard often tapes himself, or rehearses them in the car on the way to the store with his mom. He gauges the reaction he will get on his jokes by eventually testing them out on his family and friends.
“That’s usually how I see how [an audience] will react,” Carr-Howard said. “I tell [my family and friends] to be honest. Laughter is kinda hard to fake, and that’s how I know if it’s a good story that I can use in my act.”
Carr-Howard was interested in finding a camp where he could improve his skills over the summer. With The Second City’s reputation for turning out success, Carr-Howard and his family felt it was the best option. The intensive camp gave Carr-Howard a feel for the work behind what it takes to be a comedian. From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day, for two weeks, he got feedback from professionals and audiences. He learned about comedy and improving technique through games like word association, writing, practice and performances.
The young comedians were taken backstage of The Second City’s main stage during the final days of the camp. He and the other students got the opportunity to view the wall of signatures containing some of The Second City’s most famous alumni. He picked out Amy Poehler and Steve Carell’s among others. The significance of this was one of the trip’s most impactful moments for Carr-Howard.
“It was surreal seeing all those people, cause it’s like I watched these people on SNL probably way before I should have,” Carr-Howard said jokingly. “It was where all these [comedians] got their starts, I was working where the greats were before they were recognized. I was there in that moment not knowing if I’d ever be there again.”
But Carr-Howard hopes in the future he can be there again onstage. He continues to practice for the future through the Comedy Masters class he takes on Sundays at the Coterie Theatre in Crown Center. The class assists aspiring comedians in developing their skills, working in an environment with other young comedians. Carr-Howard was invited to join the class in the seventh grade after taking two other performance classes through the Coterie.
Education director Amanda Kibler teaches the class at the Coterie. She challenges students to think on a higher level, and take initiative as a leaders. Kibler says that every performer in the class is serious and dedicated about comedy. Being challenged at a high level creates a diverse community of kids sharing a similar passion.
“[The performers] have to be fearless onstage and willing to just run out there and try anything,” Education director Amanda Kibler said. “If it fails, it fails. But if it succeeds, it succeeds. So they need to get out there and try and be willing to fail, and just to say yes to every idea that’s thrown out onstage.”
Carr-Howard knows that making it big in the world of comedy will be challenging, but he is still willing to try, and see where it can take him in his future. He has not ruled it out yet as a possibility. His mother also knows there will be disadvantages to her son being exposed to certain raunchy material, or people, that can be typical in comedy.
“We only had to watch a couple of these sets before I realized that this is not like watching your kid go play sports, that it could be a lot more unpleasant than [that],” Kim said. “But how I really see it, is as a way of becoming comfortable speaking in groups [and other] transferable skills. I’m really hoping that he’s not gonna be living in my basement and spending his nights in bars when he’s 30-years-old, like some of the people that do stand up comedy in general.”
Carr-Howard agrees that comedy can provide him with many characteristics applicable to everyday life, and to him, it is more than just coming up with a series of funny jokes. He loves the feeling of making people laugh. He loves the sense of community he finds through the people who share his passion, and he hopes to stay a part of this community in the future, and throughout his life.