In the wise words of comic Marc Unger (as told to City Paper), “Comedy is about rebellion. This is your opportunity to say what you wanna say.”
Unger, along with Lucy Bucknell, a senior lecturer in the Film and Media Studies Program at Johns Hopkins, came together to teach a comedy workshop at the Brockbridge Correctional Facility in Jessup recently. The workshop was four weeks long, once a week for a couple hours — an extension of Bucknell’s writing workshops held at Brockbridge since 2009.
“I think the comedy workshop really formed naturally out of…the performance style of some of the [writing workshop] readers,” Bucknell told City Paper.
Seems to me, after reading about the workshop, being behind bars really reduces your inhibitions, making it easier to joke about being a gangster, being fat, or even being kind of an asshole. What do you have to lose in that setting? Especially if you’re among prisoners you hang with and trust. You can say what you want, about whomever you want. Honestly the inmates’ show sounded like it was hilarious. Funny fact: Jokes about the correctional officers appeared to be the most popular.
The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services granted permission for the comedy show to happen. Mark Vernarelli, DPSCS spokesman told CP, “A comedy workshop creates a forum for socialization, education, opportunity for rehabilitation, and an activity for reduce idleness within the facility.”
Comedy performance definitely seems to play a sort of therapeutic role for the prisoners, a hope-generating one. After the show, inmates agreed their biggest lesson was not how to get laughs but how to summon confidence on the stage.
Inmate Melvin Ingram told CP, “If you just think about being confident and then talk about your life and then depict from that thought the funny things out of that, then you’ll be funny.” One of the other inmates, Chris Harmon, even admitted to the reporter that comedy is something he’d like to try professionally once his sentence is up, in an attempt to keep himself out of trouble. Harmon, in fact, strutted onto the stage wearing nothing but jeans and work boots and made the crowd roar with jokes about how being in prison sucks, but being fat and in prison sucks more!
Prison comedy shows should be televised. I don’t know about you, but I’d watch it for a good, freeing belly laugh any night of the week.