April 19, 2011

The Best Medicine

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And you thought orgo was hard? The Sun caught up with Amanda Pawlak ’11 amidst her busy schedule of med school interviews, job applications, running the show as Humour Us! comedy troupe’s president, impersonating Sarah Palin, yelling out of windows and being  professionally hilarious in general. A med school-bound comedienne who has entertained Cornell with hysterical comedy sketches for four years, she has represented Cornell in a TBS sponsored comedy competition, interned at Comedy Central and is now planning to take on her medical career with a sense of humor. Phew.

The Sun: Hi Amanda. You’re a comedian; tell me something funny you encountered lately.

Amanda Pawlak: I’ve just stayed in so much because of my thesis; I don’t have as many good stories to tell. Let’s see … there was a girl I could hear outside on the street on Thursday night screaming “boom boom boom, now let me hear you say ‘wayoh!’” but none of her friends would say ‘wayoh.’ She wouldn’t stop singing it, so I finally yelled out my window “WAYOH. SHUT UP.” Then she said “Thank you, window lady!”

Sun: That’s pretty hilarious. How did you get into comedy? Were you a funny kid growing up?

A.P.: That’s kind of an interesting one … I always liked to put random jokes in my essays and lab reports in school but was never really stereotyped as the “class clown.” I really got into comedy my freshman year at Cornell when I joined my sketch group Humor Us! One of my friends was signing up for just about every single activity possible, and she begged me to try out for this comedy group with her. So I did. It happened kind of randomly, but joining Humor Us! ended up being one of the best decisions I made as an undergrad.

Sun: Tell me a little bit about Humor Us! … with an exclamation mark?

A.P.: Yes [laughs]. Humor Us! is a sketch comedy group, which basically means we write and perform our own short sketches, SNL-style. Some group members tend to incorporate a little bit of improvisation, either on purpose or because they forget their lines [laughs].

Sun: Oh so you guys are kind of like the Lonely Island?

A.P.: Kind of, minus the music, usually, and adding some Cornell specific humor.

Sun: Such as …? What kind of humor do Cornell students seem to enjoy?

A.P.: Well, since I’ve been in Humor Us!, we’ve done a lot of different styles of comedy, but my personal favorite is what I call “fratire,” which is humor dealing with the Greek system here. We had a sketch where ESPN commentators were analyzing a frat party, a sketch about a superhero called “Lax Bro,” etc. We’ve also done a bunch just about Cornell, like one where the statues on the Arts Quad come alive at midnight and a song parody all about Cornell stereotypes called “Good Morning, Ithaca!” Everyone’s sense of humor is a little different, though, so we mix it up with pop culture jokes and historical shenanigans.

Sun: And you interned at comedy central?

A.P.: Yes! It was great.

Sun:  How did you land that internship? What shows did you work on? Did you meet anyone famous?

A.P.: Well, I actually didn’t think I stood much of a chance at getting an internship with them because I’m a biology major and communications minor, which is probably something MTV H.R. doesn’t see every day, but I filled out the internship application, hoped for the best and kind of forgot about it. Then, they contacted me, put me through some interviews and that was that. I was going to NYC.

I did a lot of random things while I was there. My main area was working with Comedy Central’s stand-up website, Jokes.com, which houses clips from basically every single comedian new and old, from the 80s to today. So I watched a TON of stand-up this summer —best job ever? I also got to be at creative development meetings every week. They really encouraged us interns to suggest ideas, and they ended up using a few of mine over the course of the summer! And I got to make a cameo in an episode of a web series they were shooting the summer I was there, which was really fun.

I met a lot of up-and-coming comedians, including a bunch I discovered through watching their stand-up clips for my internship, and I got to go to a taping of The Colbert Report. I’ve also met Donald Glover and Bo Burnham in passing, but not through the internship.

Sun: That sounds awesome! So do you want to be a professional comedian? Wait …  you’re pre-med … ?!?!

A.P.: Confusing, no?

Sun: I mean, not that pre-meds can’t be funny …

A.P.: I would love to work for a few years in comedy writing, production or development, but I also see the interest in medicine as being related to comedy in a way. I like interacting and joking around with people, and I think being able to see the lighter side of things would be a good skill for a doctor in terms of communicating with patients and staying sane through the late hours and hectic shifts.

Sun: So you’re looking to pull a real life Scrubs situation or something like that?

A.P.: [Laughs] Yeah, Scrubs status is something to aspire to. If you’ve ever heard of Ken Jeong, he’s a certified surgeon but is also on Community and was in The Hangover!

Sun: Where do you get inspiration for comedy? Do you have any tips for those of us who want to be wittier and funnier?

A.P.: I know people who just have hilarious things that happen to them that they talk about for stand-up, but my style is usually a mix of half real, half made-up stories and random one-liners. My best ideas usually come in that hour and a half I spend trying to fall asleep every night, so I started sticking a notepad next to my bed just in case … Although the problem with that is that I can never read what I wrote the next morning … but for anyone who wants to try stand-up, pick a style and write down every mildly funny thought that enters your head for a week or two. I guarantee you’ll come up with at least five solid minutes of material.

Sun: I think I might try that. And now, if you don’t mind, we’re gonna play a little game of word association.

A.P.: Really? Ok I’ll try not to over think it.

Sun: Freshman year.

A.P.: Way too long ago.

Sun: Dogs.

A.P.: Most guys at The Palms.

Sun: [Laughs] Uhh … cats?

A.P.: Cats, love sleeping on my laptop almost as much as I do.

Sun: Ok … African Cats, the movie.

A.P.: Snakes on a Plane meets The Lion King.

Sun: Sitcoms.

A.P.: Community, Modern Family, Seinfeld — anything I can watch instead of study

Sun: Easter?

A.P.: Hangin’ with my Peeps. That was a bad pun. I apologize.

Sun: Pre-meds?

A.P.:  People I won’t make fun of or stereotype … lest they sabotage my experiments.

Sun: Justin Bieber?

A.P.: A poor man’s Rebecca Black

Sun: [laughs] What about Russell Brand?

A.P.: Amy Winehouse with a mustache, and let’s be real, no one’s teenage dream.

Sun: And Cornell?

A.P.: Something we’ll look back on and laugh about. Oh, and also Nelly’s real first name. Seriously.

Original Author: Lucy Li