NEW PORT RICHEY — One minute Gray Bigler plays Scooter, a 1950s-era character who revels in his own lack of social consciousness. The next minute he's mugging it up as a charmer who wears Starbucks-scented coffee cologne.
Bigler is a student comic and co-founder of the newly formed Comedy Club at Gulf High School.
"Comedy makes people feel good," he said. "And in this club we hope to identify comedic abilities in students."
Members meet each Thursday afternoon in English teacher Jan Ledman's classroom. There, they practice standup routines and techniques. Recently they received some valuable instruction from Pasco-based comic Sharon Nolan, a two-time finalist in the Florida's Funniest Person Contest who has been featured on PBS' The Young Comedians Tour and HSN. She appears at area clubs and is a member of the Got Jokes Improv Troupe in Tampa.
Nolan recently visited the club to give the kids pointers about the fine art of comedy performance. She advised them to maintain eye contact with the audience and to watch classic comedy movies to hone their craft. She also laughed along as Bigler and Christopher Tapp delivered standup routines.
Ledman also hosts poetry coffee houses and Poetry Out Loud events in her classroom. She sees the comedy club as another venue for students to express their creativity.
"In this club, the students show off their creative sides," said Ledman. "To be a good comedian, you have to learn to play with words … and that's what they learn here."
Officially formed in December, the club's origins can be found in the lighthearted friendships shared among the founders.
"It all started with Gray and me telling each other jokes," said co-founding member and Gulf High senior Alex Giannakaris. "And we were wondering why no one else had a comedy club."
"We decided to start one up," added senior Stephen Benner, the current president.
Benner credits the Gulf High IB program with influencing him to coordinate the club. And even if they don't end up becoming professional standup comics, Benner feels that participants can learn much from their involvement in the club.
"They can learn about everything from public speaking to delivering and writing jokes," he said.