When I’m not working at the bookstore, I’m a professional stand-up comic. I also have been teaching stand-up for seven years at our regional theatre, The Flynn Center, in Burlington. Until last spring, my teaching has been confined to the theatre arts program. In April I started teaching stand-up at the women’s prison. The success of that led me to the work in the men’s prison this fall.
I know there are people out there who think prisoners are in jail for very good reasons and admittedly, some of these students have done some fairly heinous things and therefore might not be deserving of what’s known as “enrichment.” I work through the Community High School of Vermont, which is the country’s only accredited high school within the prison system. Inmates take classes and can graduate with a full high school diploma and not just a GED. So, the students I work with are all enrolled in the high school and are generally among the better behaving inmates in the prison.
For the past six weeks I have taught seven men how to write, edit and perform stand-up comedy. We had our show on Thursday. I’ve learned that it doesn’t much matter if you’re in prison, or in a comedy club — first-time stand-ups are a nervous bunch. They were pacing, muttering and kind of bouncing off the walls. The head of the school made percolated coffee which thrilled the audience as well as the comics.
Working with a prison population will do nothing for the bookstore in terms of increased sales from the prison system, or even get us new shoppers, but there was something so satisfying and energizing about it, that I feel like a better bookseller because of it.
The men wrote me a thank-you card that said: In a world of order, thanks for the chaos. That still makes me laugh.