Sunday, May 19, 2024

Student takes comedy stage

Jordan Perna performs stand-up at an open mic night hosted by Radio Bean in Burlington, Vermont.


By Aleksandra Sidorova

A student in SUNY Plattsburgh’s teaching program is taking a break from studying and teaching to make people laugh.

Jordan Perna, a graduate student studying childhood education and special ed, will perform their comedy special — “John Deere 3:16” — at Olive Ridley’s 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 24. Comedian Franky Jebb from Ticonderoga, New York, will open for the show. Perna performed their first show at the venue almost exactly a year ago. 

Perna describes their humor as dark but silly.

“My job is to be able to make you laugh at something that you’re probably not going to laugh at,” Perna said.

Perna bases their material on personal experiences, such as their upbringing in a Catholic Italian family and stories from the classroom that preserve their students’ privacy. Perna also discusses their mental health on-stage.

“I talk about therapy, I talk about how some people have dark thoughts,” Perna said. “You don’t, obviously, act upon them, you have them. You say stuff when you are a kid and people say, ‘You’re not supposed to say that’ — I like to go up on stage and say those things, to an extent.”

Joking about mental health can be healing — Perna said that sometimes, audience members talk to them after a show to exchange experiences with mental health. It becomes something to laugh about rather than dwell on, Perna said.

“Helping someone out and connecting with people, I love to do that,” Perna said.

Although Perna’s jokes can stem from deeply personal experiences, not every word they say is a reflection of their off-stage character. Perna said they got a “Drama King” award in high school for their tendency to exaggerate and dramatize. Sometimes, this trait upsets audiences, but Perna sees it as a fun exercise in the boundaries of free speech and the art of comedy.

“I get to try to see, can I cross the line with these jokes? How far can I cross? I’ve gotten offended at jokes, and it’s hard for me to do that now, as a comedian, because I try to guess the punchline,” Perna said. “I do not apologize about jokes because they’re jokes. They’re just words. I put the work in, and if somebody says that something’s not funny, well, these other people laughed at it, so that’s obviously your perspective.”

Besides social norms, Perna also navigates societal expectations of teachers.

“I know there is an expectation to (the job of a teacher), and I understand that expectation, but at the end of the day, they’re just jokes,” Perna said. “These aren’t my actual thoughts that I feel about the world. … I just try to make some funny things about the world that I live in — that’s all that I try to do.”

If anything, comedy helps Perna engage students in the classroom while they teach, they said.

Perna is from Broadalbin, New York, and said they came from a funny family. They had always wanted to tell jokes, but didn’t have the courage to do so to large audiences until, coping with a dark time in their life, they went to an open mic event at the Vermont Comedy Club, Perna said.

“I did three minutes and I did a really good job,” Perna said. “I’ve been addicted ever since.”

Perna first proposed the idea of filming a comedy special to Olive Ridley’s in August 2023 and spent the time since perfecting the set. They rewrote the setlist to start off gently and gradually turn dark, testing the material on audiences in Vermont and Massachusetts. Then, Perna bought the equipment — lighting, a microphone and cameras to capture multiple angles.

The special will be available on Perna’s YouTube (@Perna703) and Spotify by July. Perna will post further updates and content on their Instagram (@jpernacomedy). 

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