Feature Articles

Here are a couple of my favorite articles that I wrote in my Feature Writing class. Enjoy!

 

Campus Comedians: They’re Just Like Us!
Fall 2013

“So, I think we live in an age of technology, folks. We do. But I think the lingo is kind of weird. Because it’s very interesting how I can say, ‘I follow a person on Twitter,’ but when I follow a girl back to her dorm room, the Office of Public Safety needs to be called.”

Jon Schuta has only been doing standup comedy for two-and-a-half years, but his stage presence during jokes like this coupled with the amount of YouTube hits his name brings up would suggest that he is somewhat of a seasoned professional.

In reality, though, you may have passed him on your walk to class this morning. Yes, Schuta, ’14, is a student here at Ithaca; and just as with many of his comedy cohorts on campus, you may not even know who he is. But talk to any student-comic here, and they’ll know his name.

It may be because Schuta has taken home three out of the last four Student Activity Board standup competition titles, with his most recent win at their Nov. 8 show. It also may be the fact that he is involved in all three comedy clubs here on campus, and is the president of IC Comedy Club. But it’s most likely the fact that his jokes — paired with his signature ensemble of a blazer, tie, and glasses — are just plain funny.

Schuta may be a star of the comedy stage, but there’s always room for more comics. Any student who wants to can participate in the comedy clubs on campus. The Acahti Players, IC Comedy Club, and IC Stand Up take both experienced performers and those who are just starting out. Students can even join one of the clubs just to be an audience member and give feedback to the performers.

Chris Miree, ’13, got his start in comedy back in 2009, at one of the SAB standup competitions. It was love at first punchline. He started slow, with performances at the school through IC Comedy Club. Since then, he has performed at over 100 shows all over New York state, including many in New York City, close to his hometown of The Bronx. This spring, the 21-year-old will sign with The Pearson Project, a small agency representing young emerging comedians.

Not all comedians at IC are as seasoned as Schuta and Miree, however. Brennan Banta, ’14, has only been performing for one year.

“Do we have any short people in the audience?” asks Banta during her set at the competition. “You really have to hand it to you short people.”

“Because you guys often cannot reach it.”

Short quips like this are what Banta’s routine consists of, and she cites social media as the inspiration.

“This is my first year being a stand-up comedian and performing, but I’ve written jokes for a little over a year now and I would post them to Twitter,” Banta said. “That’s where my comedy style comes from. I do the obscure one-liners, and they’re very short and quick. The punchline is just as long as the set up is, and that comes from the 140 character limit on Twitter because you only have so much to work with. So when I’m on stage, I try to implement that burst of funny.”

Social media websites play a large role in testing jokes today. Many comics will initially post joke ideas on Facebook and Twitter to get reaction from others before trying them out during a live standup set. Repeating jokes through these outlets can also help a comedian memorize the material.

But improvisational comedy, which is made up on the spot, takes a wildly different skill set. Zac Green, ’13, is the Vice President of the Acahti Players, IC’s improv comedy troupe. He calls standup and improv, “two very different beasts,” noting that improv is all about knowing the characters you’re portraying and remembering their relationships with everyone else.

“In improv, all you have to go on is what’s already happened, so you need to remember those details of what happened before,” Green said. “A great metaphor I heard is that improv is like driving a car, but only looking in the rearview mirror. It’s a little dangerous, and sometimes you’re worried that you don’t know what’s going on, but if you understand it well enough, you can get a good sense of how the road’s going to be.”

Standup and improv aren’t entirely independent of each other, however.

“When you do stand up, you have to improv,” Miree said. “Sometimes, you expect a certain number of people to be in a crowd, and then there aren’t that many. Or if you find out there are kids or family members in the crowd, you can’t curse as much. So you’re always adjusting. Improv is an important skill to have.”

Judging from reactions at the standup competition, a good standup set for a college audience would swear a lot, relate to things like dorm life and schoolwork, and make ample time for jokes about sex and genitalia. But staying with these commonplace jokes could be a disadvantage. Miree says that originality is one of the things that makes a joke funny to him. Sincere material that people can relate to along with a confident comedian are two of Miree’s biggest comedy do’s.

But even with all the right ingredients, not every joke can be a hit. Ithaca alumnus Dan O’Shannon, ’72, was a writer for the television series’ Cheers, Frasier, and Modern Family, before penning a full length book called What Are You Laughing At?: A Comprehensive Guide to the Comedic Event. The book takes a look at the science of comedy, comedic theories, and factors that make people laugh. He says that we need the audience to make the decision themselves that a particular joke is funny.

“It’s not enough to tell the joke,” O’Shannon writes. “You gotta sell the joke. Our job [as a comedian] is to understand the variables that influence the receiver’s decision. It helps to understand our relationship to comedy.”

Scientific analysis aside, it all comes down to one thing for a comedian: laughter. A chuckling crowd at the end of the night means the comedian did his job, and escaped humiliation. Whether it’s standup, improv, or sketch comedy, the one thing that matters is that you get the laugh.

 

A Lazy Girl’s Guide to Dieting
Fall 2013

“I’ll start my diet tomorrow,” I say as I reach for another cookie and dunk it into my glass of milk. Afterwards, as I put my glass in the dishwasher, I contemplate going to the gym. “I’ll go tomorrow,” I mutter. “When I start my diet.”

I have been uttering phrases such as this for what feels like an eternity, but more likely is about three years. I don’t necessarily consider myself overweight, but I do have the constant feeling that I’d like to be skinnier; a feeling many people share.

Of course, there are many ways to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle, but my problem is this: I’m lazy. Sometimes I don’t feel like working out for an hour, or cooking myself a healthy, balanced meal. And I’m sure there are people just like me out there. So if you’re one of them, read on to see the unhealthy habits I have, some easy tips to correct them, and how I tried to use these tips in my daily life. If you’re not like me, have a platinum gym membership, and have less than 10 percent body fat, read on simply for a laugh and a glimpse into how the other, chubbier half lives.

One of the first things I have trouble with is motivating myself to exercise. Not to mention my busy schedule filled with schoolwork, television watching, and of course, napping. I know that taking the stairs and parking farther away from a store is supposed to help, but how much can it really be doing?

Sean Reilley, the program coordinator for fitness and fitness center management at Ithaca College, says that little things such as those can make a small difference, but there is really no substitute for cardiovascular exercise. He recommends that everyone dedicate 30 to 60 minutes a day to exercise that increases your heart rate. There is, however, an option for those of us who can’t make it that long.

“Several shorter bouts of 10 to 15 minutes throughout the day can elicit health benefits as well,” Reilley said.

Getting your workout done in the morning can help, too, and Reilley says that early morning exercisers have a better chance of sticking to their routine than those who work out at other points throughout the day.

Exercising to stay healthy is one thing, but exercising strictly to lose weight can’t be completely effective unless one’s diet is also taken into account.

“If it’s strictly weight loss, nutrition’s gonna be a much bigger piece of that pie,” Reilley said. “Because to really start losing weight, you need to get into — in most cases — over 60 minutes a day of extra physical activity. But, if people are looking for weight loss, focus on calories in and calories out, and just find some way to be active.”

Although I stopped listening at the word “pie,” I realized there was something that I haven’t tried yet: counting calories. After doing a short case study, I will tell you two things: first, calories add up quickly. Second, for all us lazy folk out in the world, there are many programs, websites, and even apps that can add up these calories for us. Reilley suggests choosemyplate.gov, a site with a program called SuperTracker that gives you a personalized nutrition and physical activity plan based on your height, weight, and general activity level.

I did some searching of my own, and I found an even easier option that can be used right on your smartphone. The app is called MyFitnessPal, and it has many of the same features as Reilley’s suggested website, except with easier access and a more calorie-counting focus. After I entered some height and weight details, they gave me an estimate of how many calories I should be eating a day if I want to lose two pounds a week. It was definitely lower than expected, but I was willing to give it a try.

The most useful part of this app, however, was the fact that all I had to do was type in a food — any food, even from a restaurant — and a calorie count would pop up. Pretty easy for those of us looking to put as little effort as possible into dieting. Also, if I did my suggested 30 minute run on a treadmill one day, I could enter that into the app and it would give me more calories to eat for the day. I could even do enough exercise to fit in my favorite meal of the day, dessert.

While my case study has yet to have a long lifespan, I can already feel myself changing. Not to distance myself from my fellow lethargy-enthusiasts, but I feel as though both my self-esteem and general enthusiasm have heightened.

“There is a psychological side to things where people do tend to feel a little bit better,” Reilley said. “I used to work with a group who said that their morning workout was better than their morning coffee. There definitely is an increase in energy levels once you get into a routine.”

Although I don’t think I’ve found the perfect weight loss routine for my life yet, I do think I’m taking small steps in the right direction. And all you lazies out there, take it from a fellow slug: there are easy ways to diet and exercise that don’t take much effort. Maybe all you need is a little push. And for someone to hide the cookies.

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