By Matthew McMahan
The Comedic Arts program at Emerson College has entered its fourth year and already students have been landing impressive internships that have put their comedy education to work. This summer three such students — Rachel Fendt ’20, Finnegan Wagstaff ’21, and Claire Farnsworth ’21 — found a variety of different contexts to ply their skills.
Fendt spent several months working for Seacrest Studios at Boston Children’s Hospital. Funded by the Ryan Seacrest Foundation, Seacrest Studios manages a television and radio broadcasting station that creates content for the hospital, catering specifically to children.
Meanwhile, Farnsworth found herself interning at the Manhattan Comedy School in New York City, which offers classes in stand-up, storytelling, and improv. The founding director of the school, Andy Engel, is also the director of new talent at Gotham Comedy Club, where Farnsworth spent much of her time.
In Chicago, Wagstaff had the opportunity to work for The Annoyance Theatre, one of the city’s premiere improv comedy clubs. In addition to working for the theatre, he also was able to take free improv classes.
The students each took a moment to reflect on their experiences, what they learned, and how their internship made them reflect upon their education at Emerson.
MM: What was unique about your internship?
FW: Since the team at The Annoyance is small, I was able to help out in a variety of ways and learn much more than I was expecting to. Going behind the scenes … I was able to understand how much time and effort goes into the upkeep of an institution. I got to help design graphics for shows coming to The Annoyance and for The Annoyance itself, which I am super proud of. … I also got to meet and work with Mick Napier, whose work is, in my opinion, legendary.
RF: I came into Emerson’s Comedic Arts program initially wanting to delve deep into comedic healing and comedy as a coping mechanism, as I strive to be a helping hand to those who need it — especially if it includes bringing a smile or a laugh to at least one person every day. I quickly realized that I could combine my passion for working with kids and for comedy with children’s media/entertainment. So, you know, the second I read the mission of Seacrest Studios, I was all in. I mean, kids plus creating entertainment … What could be better?
MM: What did you most enjoy?
CF: My internship was split up, part-time at Manhattan Comedy School’s office in Washington Heights, and part-time in Chelsea/Lower Manhattan at comedy shows. Almost all of the shows I helped run took place at Gotham Comedy Club.
I definitely didn’t have anything to complain about this summer, living on my own in New York City and being able to get myself and my friends into professional comedy shows for free, multiple nights a week. We got to see seasoned comics like Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Gaffigan, Michael Rapaport, and Gary Gulman frequently!
RF: I got to develop and produce my very own show called Alien Invasion. I was super excited about this, but didn’t realize how much in-depth work and research it actually entailed … but it went really well and it was so much fun!
During the show, the patients had to call in to tell jokes to scare the aliens away! They were so passionate and excited about sharing their jokes that they did it for an hour straight. It was a time filled with smiles and jokes and laughter and, of course, battling aliens, and I am so grateful that I had many hours like this in my summer with Seacrest Studios.
MM: Touch upon a memorable experience. What made it memorable? What did you learn from it?
CF: I managed to get booked for seven different New Talent Showcases at Gotham Comedy Club this summer. I was incredibly nervous my first time onstage — it was the most people I had ever performed stand-up in front of, and it was my first time performing in New York City. … But it went well and I kind of killed it!
Afterwards, a woman came up to me and told me she was from Warner Brothers and asked if I had a business card (I didn’t). I gave her my information and nothing ever came of it, but it was exciting either way (and great incentive for me to order business cards). The very last time I performed at Gotham it was a full house — which is weird for a weeknight in mid-August —around 200 to 250 people. I had finally perfected and put together a reliable “tight five,” which had been my goal for the summer.
FW: Another amazing part of this internship was that I got to produce my own improv show.
One of my duties was to help decide which show pitches to book for The Annoyance. This experience helped me understand what it took in order for a show to get picked up, and also what the process of rehearsing and marketing a show outside of a college setting was like. Getting to direct myself and my friends in a show and pack the mainstage of the theater was incredible and makes me really excited for the future.
MM: How did the internship make you reflect upon your education at Emerson College?
RF: Seacrest Studios helped me reflect upon my education by challenging me to step outside of my comfort zone and take my Modes of Comedy Production class and remember how to set up and use a big fancy camera and all of the supplemental equipment.
I feel like, for me, working at Seacrest Studios was the absolute best in balancing the education I received at Emerson and tailoring it to my passions/interests, while also pushing me to try things that I haven’t had much experience with before. Seacrest Studios, and any internship in general, is a great way to get a taste of what the real world in your industry is going to be like, while still having the safety and backup of being in college.
CF: I got to learn about the process of producing and booking comedy shows in New York City. I got to observe what goes into looking for new talent and up-and-coming comics to perform in shows.
I also learned about the less-pretty sides of the New York comedy scene. It is tough, it is sexist, and it is racist. Being outside of the safety bubble that is Emerson reinforced in me that I am a young woman trying to enter a very male-dominated industry. Sometimes I forget that certain biases exist, and that not everyone believes in you and wants to support you.
FW: The internship has made me a much more confident person when it comes to my professional skills and also in the way I interact with people who are also working in the comedy industry. The internship also made me aware of how I spend my time at Emerson because I only have two years left, and it was a reminder to get the most out of my educational experience as possible.
Matthew McMahan is assistant director of the Comedic Arts program.