Standing up while sitting down: Kahn pursues comedy online


Emma Colacino , Staff Writer

To close out the first week of HM Online, Spencer Kahn (12) logged into Zoom on a Friday evening, along with six other teen comedians, ready to make 98 audience members laugh with jokes about social distancing, relationships, and public transportation.

“Right now people need jokes more than ever,” Kahn said. “It’s a sad time: the news is scary and everything seems to be falling apart, but if just for a moment people can escape that with just laughing, it’s worth it.”

Kahn has been devoted to comedy since he was 11 years old. “Comedy has pretty much defined my life for the past six years; it’s interesting to think what I’d be doing without it,” he said.

Kahn was first introduced to comedy after his parents brought him to a show hosted by Kids N Comedy, a New York City comedy program. After watching the show, Kahn realized that he wanted to be on stage telling jokes himself, he said.

Since then, Kahn has taken comedy classes through the Kids N Comedy summer program, interned at the program, and participated in monthly performances, he said. Additionally, Kahn has performed his stand up comedy during assemblies, Upper Division Orientation, and student talent shows.

Recently, Kahn performed on March 11 in an open mic at the Gotham Comedy Club. Because this was the first show Kahn did that was not associated with Kids N Comedy, Khan had to ask the manager to perform one of his sets. “It was mainly just of my own volition, more so than any other show I’ve done, which made it feel a lot more like my own,” Kahn said.

Kahn has continued his stand up comedy performances despite the recent quarantine. On April 3, he performed alongside six other comedians on a Zoom call. “It was a very interesting experience but it was enjoyable,” Kahn said. “None of us really knew how to run a zoom meeting, but we all did our best and I think it went really well.”

The call was organized by a group of six comedians and was completely planned to be over Zoom since the beginning, Kahn said. All of the performers promoted and spread awareness about the show through social media.

The performers used a feature on Zoom to display only themselves on the screen, while none of the audience members were visible. The audience had the ability to react through sending messages in the chat to give feedback to the performers, Kahn said.

However, this feature did not replace the audience completely. “A lot of what makes stand up comedy special is the audience reaction and how they [the comedians] can feed off the audience, and it was really lacking that,” said Dylan Chin (12), who attended the Zoom call.

The Zoom call was organized completely by the performers, with no technological assistance. “It was pretty clear that it was everyone’s first time doing something like that, and there were some technological problems at the beginning,” said Dora Woodruff (12), who also attended.

Despite these issues at the beginning of the performance, the call maintained a large audience, which Kahn was impressed with, he said.

Much of Khan’s comedy material comes from his observational humor. “That’s my type of comedy,” Kahn said.

Specifically, Kahn writes about what he sees in New York City. “A lot of my material is based on looking around the city, or finding something and writing a note about it and then expanding it into a joke,” Kahn said.

An example of his observational humor is a joke that Libby Mather (12) recalls, in which Kahn made about signs that state that if you see crime, you should report it to a nearby police officer. However, Kahn remarked that if a police officer is nearby, crime shouldn’t be happening at all, she said.

The deliverance of the jokes adds to Kahn’s comedy. “A lot of it has to do with the way he says it and his tone of voice,” Chin said. “The way he delivers it is pretty deadpan in a way,” Woodruff said.

An example of Kahn’s humor is about how he would play hide and seek as an only child. He frequently jokes about how he played a game called hide, in which he would hide for two hours and when he would come out, he’d win, Woodruff said.

Mather, who has seen Kahn perform on multiple occasions, said that his comedy comes from finding humor in the little details of what happens to people.

When writing his material, Kahn often avoids social media and other media-related content. “From a jokes standpoint, I don’t love writing jokes about social media because I’m afraid that some people won’t get it,” Kahn said. “That’s the reason why I don’t make jokes about video games or movies really, because if you don’t get the reference, you’re probably not going to get the joke.”

Although Kahn does not often write jokes referencing social media, he does use it to promote and show his comedy. “Whenever I do more adult, open mic shows, then I usually post about it on Instagram or Twitter,” Kahn said.

Comedy has impacted Kahn by changing his outlook on the world around him. “There’s a lot of times when it really changes the way I think about the world.” Kahn feels that he would not be as observant as he is today had he not started comedy, he said.

Comedy has also made an impact on his academic life. “It’s made writing creative works and analytical works in class much easier because you get a better grasp of language and what you can do with it.” Kahn said.

However, there are also times when managing school work in tandem with comedy is challenging. “High school, especially at Horace Mann, is not easy- it’s difficult. There are times when I contemplated taking a break from comedy just because it’s hard to manage everything, but I feel like over time, I’ve gotten much better at managing all my work and making it easier to handle school work and extracurriculars,” Kahn said.

“Humor in general is a really effective way of dealing with these kinds of situations, so having comedy shows where a lot of the comedians make jokes about what’s going on is really helpful,” Woodruff said.