By Sharon Aschaiek
Special to The Toronto Sun
Humber college comedy students may soon be laughing all the way to the bank.
The school's innovative program -- and the only one in the world offered by an English-language school -- is set to become the focus of a new reality TV series.
Last month, Merv Griffin Productions, the company behind Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, and Creative Artists Management, which represents Canadian comedy moguls Lorne Michaels and Ivan Reitman, signed an agreement with the school to cover the lives of the students, and to explore their reasons for choosing the laugh business.
Joe Kertes founded the program in 1999, which teaches naturally funny students how to break into the field through instruction in performing standup, sketch and physical comedy, writing film and TV scripts and much more. Offered at Humber's Lakeshore Campus, the program has always been extremely popular, attracting nine applications for each of its 130 spots, but with a potential career-building reality show in the equation, Kertes says interest has gone through the roof.
At the best of times interest is hard to control, but now it's ridiculous," Kertes says. "We're getting calls from previous grads and others desperate to get in."
He says a show of this kind could provide an enormous boost to an aspiring comedian.
| Joe KertesFounder
"We're very excited. This is a huge opportunity for students. If they end up on an American national show, 10 or 12 could catapult to international stardom overnight, like American Idol finalists."
And much like those contestants, those vying for a spot must flaunt their flair for the funny in an audition next month -- only this time, the vice-president of development for Merv Griffin Productions will be in the audience.
Chosen students will be divided into four groups, one of which will be followed by cameras. In addition to showcasing them in the classroom, the show will explore their personal lives and what influences made them funny. At the same time, a script will be developed for a possible fictional film down the road.
"I think it's a natural fit for a reality show," Kertes says. "It will be so much fun to explore what causes people to become comedians."
And apparently there are a lot of people who agree with him. The initial spark that raised the program's profile was a story published in the New York Times last December. The story was later picked up by the International Herald Tribune and featured as a cover story.
Established in 1999, Humber College's comedy: writing and performance program is the only one of its kind in the world offered by an English-language school.
It has attracted major talents to its advisory board, including Steve Allen, Yuk Yuk's CEO Mark Breslin, Rick Moranis, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy and Dave Thomas. Mike Myers, Chevy Chase, Colin Mochrie and Dave Foley have also participated to some extent.
The two-year diploma program teaches students about how the industry works, and prepares them to work in a variety of roles.
The curriculum covers standup comedy, improv, sketch, acting, voice, physical comedy, script writing, business writing and history of comedy.
The school also offers a one-year, certificate-level post-graduate program. Call Humber at 416-675-6622 or visit www.humber.ca.
Since then, Kertes says he has received more than 500 e-mails and phone calls that have included media requests from the BBC, 60 Minutes and more than two dozen independent film producers. Merv Griffin Productions, however, was the first to make a serious bid. Shooting is to begin in the fall.
The show will be enhanced by visits from celebrity comedians -- upcoming guests include Anne Meara, Jerry Stiller of Seinfeld, Merv Griffin and possibly Catherine O'Hara.
And of course, there are the unpredictable antics of a room full of class clowns.
"They're an unusual group, that's for sure," he says. But he hopes viewers will also get a better sense of the comedian psyche. "Comedians are a morose group of people -- they're darker than you think. Sometimes it's hard to draw them out, but when we do, we get great stuff."
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