Student discovers unknown talent

Michelle Nelson

photo courtesy of Jonnae Thompson

Photo Courtesy of Jonnae Thompson

Jonnae Thompson doesn’t exactly fit the profile of a professional standup comedian. She’s young. She’s a woman. And she’s an English major.

Thompson, 22, got her start as a professional comedian a year ago, and now is performing regularly at comedy clubs, such as the Comedy Store on Sunset – where some of the biggest names of comedy have performed, such as Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy.

Being in the industry dominated by males, Thompson found that she stands out.

“I’m typically the only woman, a lot of times the only person my age. Sometimes the only African American person there,” she said.

Thompson said getting into standup was not intentional. It wasn’t something that she had even considered until she saw a flyer for the Jimmy Kimmel college competition on campus.

“I might be a funny girl, but I could never get in front of an audience and make people laugh,” she said.

A friend persuaded Thompson to enter the competition. Thompson was hesitant at first, but said that the woman in charge of signing people up sealed the deal for her.

The woman said there was a lack of female representation, said Thompson, “and anytime you tell me something like that, I’m probably going to do it.”

Thompson entered the competition, not really knowing what to expect.

“I thought it was going to be something like improv, or we’re going to play games, or something like that,” she said.

Hours before the competition that day, she found out she had to prepare a three-minute set.

“Three minutes didn’t sound hard to me … but once I saw what three minutes of standup really would look like, I thought maybe this isn’t really the time to try to test this out,” said Thompson.

When she arrived for the competition, she still didn’t have a set prepared.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to wing it, I’m just going to wing it’,” she said.

Drawing from her everyday life, she talked about church and going to the gym.

She ended placing as the runner-up, and her performance drew the attention of the host of the competition, Vargus Mason.

They kept in contact over the next few months, until last summer, when he offered to get her into a show.

“I thought he was saying he could get me some free tickets,” said Thompson.

Mason instead had invited Thompson to perform a six-minute set at the Comedy Store.

“I was like, I don’t think he realizes I’m not serious, I don’t do comedy,” she said.

Once Thompson took to the stage and performed, she knew she belonged in comedy.

“I knew at that point that was what I’m supposed to be doing … I really think the biggest thing was the connection with the audience,” said Thompson.

Thompson went from performing once a month to performing at least twice a week.

Balancing school life and her professional life is difficult for Thompson,

“Sometimes I’m out until 3 a.m. doing shows, I have to squeeze in school and homework,” she said.

Besides performing at comedy clubs, Thompson also is the producer of “Tickle Me Tuesdays” – the free comedy show held at the Pub once a month.
There she works with student and professional comedians, such as Ron G.

Ron G. has known Thompson for about two years, he said.

“I remember when she had 10 minutes of material, now look at her,” he said.

Ron G. is also a clean comic, and said that Thompson is necessary to the stage.

“I don’t think there are a lot of clean females in the game,” said Ron G. “She’s going to be great. I’m proud of her and excited for what lies ahead of her and her career.”

Thompson produces the show in collaboration with Student Protection and Campus Entertainment (SPACE), as well as hosting the event.

Thompson said she wanted to bring student and professional comedians together to perform on campus, and give student comedians the opportunity to network with some of the professionals in the industry.

“I had a vision to bring a comedy night here, and we hadn’t really had anything like that,” she said.

Most importantly, said Thompson, is to bring laughter to students.

With the stress of school and dorm life, Thompson said it’s important to provide something that will relieve some of the stress from their everyday lives.

“The biggest thing was to have something. Laughter is, I really believe, is the best forms of medicine. I know this sounds cliché, but it’s so therapeutic. I just know it is,” she said.

The next show for “Tickle Me Tuedays” is Nov. 10, 7 to 10 p.m. at the Pub. For more information about additional dates check out http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=62811380361.