March 12, 2009
There is something funny about Knox senior Pam Schuller. At least she hopes there is.
"My jaw dropped," she says with an animated replay, when comedian Jerry Seinfeld had the last laugh - performing on the same stage after her own punchlines.
For Schuller, years of slogging it out in stand-up comedy venues for free may be paying off in what could be a lucrative and even liberating way.
Her first stand-up gig was at summer camp way back in middle school. She initiated her funny career by stepping onto a talent show stage in Indiana in the middle of a humid Midwest summer. "Even then, it was still a rush." Now, she is easily Knox's most recognizable comedian and has been the opening act for comedians performing here. "I love to tell stories and entertain."
Following the encouragement of well-known comedy performers Pete Holmes and Lynne Koplitz, Schuller completed nine stand-up comedy shows in several clubs in New York during winter break.
With the help of other Knox students, Schuller put together a press kit with a DVD of her performances, photos, business cards and a resume. "I also had help launching my own website." She sent the package to several New York clubs she found online. She also had clubs recommendations from her Comedy Central mentor Lynne Koplitz. "I was already going to New York to job shadow for my independent major. Eight clubs got back to me, and it all just came together."
Doors started opening, and she got some paying shows. At Gotham Comedy Club, Schuller was one of several comedians who performed a 10 minute set along with Jerry Seinfeld. "I got a chance to speak to him, and I even gave him my business card. I told him I would be happy to open for him. He laughed. Did I get a photo? No. I didn't want to be that kind of kid. I wanted to be professional."
"I tell my audience that I am a Jewish midget with tourette syndrome, and I always used humor as a coping mechanism to be okay with myself. I have evolved. I don't need it as a coping mechanism anymore. I just like making people laugh." Her perception and ability to joke about her tourette's and her Jewish heritage has won over crowds from Knox's campus to New York City.
By her own accounts, some of her jokes are hits and some are misses. Some have profound societal messages, while others are crude to the bone. "I don't mind pushing inappropriate limits."
She considers almost no subject matter off-limits. But at the other end of the experience spectrum, she works with troubled teenagers and adamantly states that she will not use the kids she works with for her comedy material.
Schuller confesses that in knowing she loved comedy, she equally knew she would always pursue psychology. Her career choice is working with troubled teens. Her second major is a self-designed program in youth outreach through performing arts. "I want to work with the kids nobody else wants to work with."
Her kids know she does stand-up comedy, but Schuller is clear when she states they have never heard her say a bad word. "I want to show them there is a time and place for you to say what is on your mind. You can be funny in a work environment and still be appropriate."
She is torn between pursuing psychology or social work at grad school, and going to law school for juvenile justice. "But I know I will work with teenagers."
She started writing and performing stand-up when she was in junior high school, but now is ratcheting up her comedy career working to increase her bookings at shows. "I do get an adrenaline rush out of it. When I nail a set, I feel good." she says.
"When you get a big laugh, it's a thrill." She says the funniest material is always the stuff that hits closest to home. "I think about the world differently and it turns into stand-up. Being able to take things that used to be difficult to talk about and can now be comfortable is good. And, I am able to make the audience comfortable. That is unreal."
By her own description, Schuller is "super involved" at Knox. An audition and role in an improv show during her first term at Knox set the stage. "That put me on the right track, and I got more involved in theatre."
In addition to theatre, she is a resident's advisor, on the Flunk Day committee last year and this year, on the Union Board, the grievance panel and the theater advisory board. "The thought of graduating and narrowing my passions is scary," she says. "I will miss having a random idea from left field and having so many faculty say "Okay, how do we make this happen?""
No matter what happens to Schuller, she will make sure she has a good laugh.