23 Aug 2014
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Homeless Get a Lesson in Stand-up Comedy

The classes are designed to instill confidence.

Most people know that old saying about laughter being the best medicine, but can comedy be the path to a better life?

Well for at least one Bradenton woman, comedy gave her the boost in confidence she needed to get a job — putting her on the path to a better life.

It's all part of a program Becky Taylor, development director for Turning Point (formerly the Community Coalition on Homelessness), dreamed up to offer an enrichment program for homeless adults.

In collaboration with Les McCurdy, of McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre in Sarasota, Taylor created a class to teach interpersonal skills through comedy.  By working on a three minute stand up routine, students learned to maximize eye contact, physical presence, and appropriate remarks. They gained confidence as they spoke in front of the class each week. 

Taylor said one woman gained so much confidence that she was finally able to ask for a job.

"She wouldn't have asked previously," Taylor said. "She told me this class gave her the confidence to ask for the job."

When Taylor approached McCurdy about doing a few classes with Turning Point's clients, she was hoping to offer a little enrichment, something beyond the basics of food and clothes.

"I wanted to give them some tools to take out into the world," Taylor said."We believe this will be the first time anything like this has been attempted anywhere with the homeless population."

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That's where McCurdy came in. Comedy classes the two figured would teach communication skills, eye contact, appropriateness given the audience. Thursday's audience included staff, volunteers and the media.

Kerry Kevin Gallagher, a homeless man who said his friends offered to bring him to "Comedy Central," overcame a case of nervousness to take the stage.

He had a talent for different accents and various voices. He said he comes from a talented family, made up of Celtic musicians. He isn't a musician, but had fun trying his hand at comedy.

"That was tough," he said. "I was a little nervous."

McCurdy said for someone like Gallagher to get up in front of an audience despite being nervous helps develop an air of confidence.

The performance turned out to be a success, even though not everyone followed the rules about appropriateness and even though some showed more nerves than others.

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