As "Jersey" George Scrivana is looking over his script, he says he misses his grandma.
"She's been gone for 10 years," Scrivana says. "She's in jail!"
Scrivana's grandma also had a bad habit of breaking wooden spoons - over his head, he said.
If that isn't crazy enough, Kirsten Alberts of Tempe, a film production student at the Phoenix Art Institute, said she likes to poke fun at the dark side of life.
She's fine-tuning her repertoire of how she says her life is worthless without a man.
"I like being able to laugh at the difficulties in life," Alberts said. "It doesn't make things easier, but it makes me feel better."
Meanwhile, Tony Vicich is sitting to the side of the stage at a cocktail table with a pad and pen listening to all the nonsense, taking notes and offering constructive criticism like a judge on "American Idol."
Vicich is observing and critiquing his Class Clowns practicing on the stage, telling them how to "beef up" or improve the punch line of a joke, how to add more time to their routine or shorten it, suggesting to the upcoming comedians that they update their jokes - "People are moving on from the Apocalypse and telling (Congressman) Anthony Weiner jokes now."
"The show's not about you," he says. "It's about the audience."
It's "dress rehearsal" night at the Tempe Improv and the pressure is on an eclectic group of misfits, professionals and perhaps some going through a mid-life crisis who are learning how to write jokes, turn stage fright into performance power and memorize routines without having to hold a notebook or script.
The jokes poke fun at Arizona's state Legislature, ongoing national issues or the experiences of online dating. There's nothing off limits.
They are just days away from earning their diplomas in a sense because the show is about to go live as they perform their own routines, the culmination of a six-week course for the "advanced class" on how to become a stand-up comedian.
From 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, the "Class Clowns" event will be held at the Tempe Improv, 930 E. University Drive. Cost of admission to see about 15 acts each night is $11.
"That isn't bad," said Vicich, who has about 30 years of experience in comedy, once touring the country as a stand-up comic in the late 1980s and later working at comedy clubs in San Diego, Los Angeles and Albuquerque. "The cost is less than a buck a comedian or about two and a half cents a laugh. We've got it all figured out."
Vicich, 55, has been teaching ComedySchools.com for 10 years and said he is noticing a spike in comedy in the Valley, seeing some talent emerge from the East Valley as well as a lot of amateurs who are just starting to test the waters. He estimates he has taught or instructed slightly more than 1,000 comedy students coming through his school in the last decade.
Other "Class Clowns" who will be performing include news reporter Gregg Paul of Fox News' KFYI News (550-AM), Jim Bambrough of Gilbert, ventriloquist Bobbie Rubin of Paradise Valley and her puppet "Frog," and Ethan Watkins, 18, the youngest comedian in the bunch.
"For some people, this is their bowling night," Vicich said. "They don't like bowling, so they come on out and try comedy. The course helps people with their technique and delivery, how to walk onto the stage, talk into a microphone and better deliver their jokes. We're here to have fun. Comedy is a manufactured party. If you don't enjoy it in the moment, you're robbing yourself."
Scrivana, who trains insurance sales agents, said he's having the time of his life and is looking forward to seeing some of his co-workers and friends show up to see him perform.
"It's a lot of fun," Scrivana said. "I'm having a great time. A, I have nothing to lose. B, I'm getting skills at speaking and delivery before a microphone. I'm no longer hiding behind the drum set on the stage. You've got to start off with a laugh and go off the stage with a laugh. Then, they'll remember you."
And then, there's guys like Kevin O'Dea of Tempe, a seven-year student of ComedySchools.com.
"I started going to open mic nights," O'Dea said. "I thought these people were awful and thought, ‘I could do better than them without trying.'"
"We keep the shows moving and going along quick," Vicich said. "Our goal is to get people out here and have a great night. We're up there to make people laugh."