Communication grad and comedian starts stand-up club at ASU
Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.
For Arizona State University students who aspire to be the next Dave Chappelle or Ali Wong, there's a club here for you.
Senior Luke Rowland, a communication major at the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, created Sun Devil Stand Up in the fall of 2022 to help aspiring comedians learn the basics of stand-up comedy and apply it to their joke writing.
Rowland started the club after discovering that ASU already had sketch and improv comedy clubs on campus, such as Farce Side, Tempe Late Night and Barren Mind, but not one that specialized in the art form of stand-up comedy.
"This club is more of an open gym for comics to get multiple reps practicing their acts among friendly fellow students of comedy before performing said acts before the fellow student body," he said.
Sun Devil Stand Up is open to all students, and its members are majoring in such diverse areas as communication, sustainability, mathematics, civil engineering, information technology, film, history and psychology.
Rowland credits his communication classes for preparing him to become a comedian by giving him a foundation of understanding how to successfully interact with the audience in funny ways.
"More specifically, my public speaking class, interpersonal communication class and relational communication class taught me the 'fundamentals of basketball' equivalent to stand-up comedy, because what is stand-up if not using interpersonal communication to speak in public about my relationships?" he said.
Sun Devil Stand Up has collaborated with multiple other student organizations in a variety of fun and funny ways, says Rowland.
"We visit other ASU clubs 'on their turf' and learn the skills they have to offer in exchange for our comedians performing some light-hearted jokes via a little travel microphone," said Rowland.
"When we met with the ASU Meditation Club, they taught us a breathing technique that can calm down pre-show nerves. When we collaborated with the Jugger Club on a Sun Devil Fitness Club field, they taught us how to play the sport, while we told them jokes during the water breaks. We also went to a poetry open mic at a tea lounge in downtown Phoenix with ASU’s poetry club that was on the same street as a comedy open mic in a hipster cafe.
"Stand-up is an art form that can adapt to any situation, and Sun Devil Stand Up practices this skill of adaptability by collaborating with any kind of club on campus."
The club's faculty advisor, Hugh Downs School Artistic Director Jennifer Linde — who taught Rowland in COM 442: Identity, Performance, and Human Communication — says communication classes helped him hone his craft.
"Luke also works with club members on writing jokes and presenting them to an audience. They are getting experience doing audience analysis and speaking in public," Linde said.
Linde noted that several performance studies students have done stand-up comedy during and after being students at ASU.
"Luke’s classmates chose him to perform at the end-of-the-semester student showcase at the Empty Space theater in the Hugh Downs School," Linde said. "He used comedy to narrate the experience of his grandfather’s death and did an amazing job of weaving grief, laughter and love all into one narrative. His use of humor is that good."
Rowland describes his type of comedy as "poetically existential optimism" and says he likes saying punchlines that make the audience think before they can laugh.
"My humor may be dark; my setups might paint a picture of a half-empty glass. But the punchline will be that the glass is overflowing because I turned the glass upside down. Even if it was half full, the second that it’s upside down it becomes an overflowing glass ... because of gravity. Duh."
Rowland has been performing at comedy open mics all around the Valley of the Sun for over a year now, including at Rick Bronson’s House of Comedy in Phoenix, ImprovMania in Chandler and at the Phoenix Center of the Arts.
"I have also performed stand-up comedy in my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland," he said.
Rowland believes comedy clubs are still popular and that attendance has only increased since the pandemic.
"People are sick and tired of staying inside looking at their screens all day," he said. "With all the remote work, an overabundance of streaming services and a 24/7 news cycle that is only becoming sadder, people need a reason to get out, socialize and smile about their lives every once in a while. In the immortal words of stand-up legend Robin Williams, 'Comedy can be a cathartic way to deal with personal trauma.' After 2020, I think everybody is at least a little traumatized."
As for the future of Sun Devil Stand Up, Rowland says it will continue after he graduates this spring.
"We just re-registered in Sun Devil Sync, and we are hosting elections this week to figure out the next generation of leadership for the club next year. I’m excited to see what new heights this comedic community can grow to reach."
As for his plans after graduation, Rowland says he will be doing stand-up comedy full time in the Phoenix area, as well as continuing his career as a comedy writer with the sketch comedy production company Patent Pending.
"I will host open mic shows at various locations in the Valley, that can hopefully create a multi-medium creativity collective, but not a cult. More culture, fewer cults, that’s the end goal."
Ba dum tss.