Rohnert Park comedian teaches how to make people laugh
You might not know it if you passed him in the grocery store or saw him at the gas pump, but Jim Richardson is a master of the art of comedy.
In a time of YouTube video pranks and memes, Richardson is a throwback. He teaches the art of stand-up comedy, sketch comedy and film/TV acting to anyone who wants to learn, from amateurs to those looking to become the next comedic guest on “The Tonight Show.”
Richardson, 72, hails from Burlingame but now calls Santa Rosa home. His background is in English and fine arts. He graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in creative writing along with a master’s degree in fine arts from Carnegie-Mellon University.
It was in 1976 that comedy inspired him to delve more into the humorous side of the arts. That was when he reviewed the 1976 San Francisco Comedy Competition as part of his duties for a local paper called The Sonoma County Stump. His job also entailed reviewing plays and other stage performances, including comedy.
He wasn’t enthused about driving all the way to San Francisco just to review a comedy show in a bar. Of course that show, the first year of the competition, featured a very talented lineup, with Robin Williams finishing second to Bill Farley and Bob Sarlatte coming in third.
The seed that was planted that night took a few years to germinate. At the time, Richardson was teaching off-campus acting and production classes at Santa Rosa Junior College and working with the Redwood Empire Players. One class consisted of performing four one-act plays, but he opted to turn the last one into a “skits and songs” experiment that was very well received.
That led to teaching a Stand-Up Comedy Workshop course at Sonoma State University in 1980, believed to be the first stand-up comedy course taught for college credit in the U.S.
“This (teaching comedy) is more fun than teaching acting, although I love acting. This is emotionally more appealing,” said Richardson.
From there, he developed his comedy teaching into a course that was taught at various locations and times, in some cases to meet the needs of comedians who wanted to work on classic fundamentals.
Since launching his Organized Comedy business, Jim has produced over 1,000 comedy shows in Northern California and taught thousands of people about the art of comedy and speaking.
His instruction uses many of the greatest comedians as examples, from Harvey Korman and Joan Rivers to David Letterman and Robert Klein.
These lessons have helped numerous comedians find success, including David Feldman, who has done stand-up on “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” along with writing for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “Real Time with Bill Maher.”
With over 30 years’ experience teaching in and around Sonoma County, Richardson, who is also a filmmaker, still enjoys teaching the art of comedy.
According to Richardson, Sonoma County is a great area for comedy primarily because the audiences are smart, which means comedians can use a greater range of material.
“Acting is dealing with emotion. Comedy appeals to the intellect,” Richardson said.
His favorite aspect of teaching comedy is giving a student a good critique to help them solve any problems they had in the performance, and then seeing improvement in the next class. In the stand-up class, the students perform a set on a hot mic while being recorded.
After all the performances, a group discussion takes place with critique from Richardson, focusing on the craft of comedy such as movement on stage, using gestures to help with memorization, delivery of jokes and much more.
“Why did you do it that way?” he quizzed one student before reminding the group of the underlying lesson and result they should be aiming for.
Richardson regularly teaches comedy workshops around the county that culminate with students competing in an open stand-up competition. The comedy workshops run over a six-week period with the next set of classes held in Rohnert Park beginning April 17.
For information on Richardson’s classes and the upcoming schedule, visit www.jimrichardson.com.