Creative writing at Dal helps comedian create laughter

Dalhousie grad credits skills learned in school to help him work a crowd

Comedian Dan Hendricken says Dal creative writing course have helped him land laughs. Photo: Thoshlae Smith

If you ask Dan Hendricken to tell you a joke he’ll tell you that he’s a single guy looking for love who went speed dating, goofed up and took way too much speed. He’ll then start screaming and roaring, actions he says usually get the crowd laughing.

Making people laugh is something Hendricken does every Wednesday.

This Wednesday at 8 p.m at the Grad House, the atmosphere was light. There was soft clamour as students talked, sipped beer and unwound from their long days.

“It feels good to make other people feel good,” said Hendricken, who graduated with a psychology degree from Dalhousie last semester. Holding a microphone, he welcomed audience members before he began to work the crowd.

“Crowd work is super important and Dan is super good at it,” said comedian Chanel Freire. “He can go up on stage without any notes prepared and spend 15 minutes making fun of people.”

The object of crowd work is to make everyone feel like a part of the show.

Hendricken says he differs from other comedians because he can improvise but also bring good ideas and strong writing skills — skills he credits to creative writing courses he took at Dalhousie.

Enrolling in creative writing courses at Dalhousie gave Hendricken the opportunity to see other local comedians such as Picnicface perform.

Shashi Bhat, Hendricken’s former creative writing instructor, is no longer teaching at Dalhousie. While the instructor may have changed, the course material has not.

El Jones teaches a course called the creative process at Dalhousie.

“Our program emphasizes that students have a need for self-expression,” she says. “We are creative people and your creativity is within you in whatever form.”

During the course students look at spontaneity, play and breath in art. Students also complete a creative project of their choice to help embrace creativity in their lives.

“Part of it is speaking and finding out who you are by speaking,” said Jones.

One way she has been trying to get students to express themselves is to have them freestyle in class. But some students hesitate, Jones said.

For some of the course, students also study comedy by watching and analyzing comedians such as Richard Pryor.

After starting comedy night at the Grad House, Hendricken wants more comedy events at Dalhousie.

“It would be nice if there were more touring comedians coming through Dalhousie because there would be people who would be willing to see it,” said Hendricken.

He’s trying to get a monthly room at Dalhousie with professional comedians.

Freire agrees that there should be more comedy clubs in Halifax. For now, though, she is content performing at the Grad House and various other locations in Halifax.

“The Grad House is literally a warm bath for comedians. It’s the same people who come out so that creates a sense of community,” said Freire.

Both Freire and Hendricken said they got their start at amateur night at Yuk Yuk’s in Halifax’s Westin hotel.

Yuk Yuk’s was founded in Toronto in the mid-70s as a stage for poetry, native songs, folk and experimental jazz.

Hendricken has his eyes and heart set on working for This Hour has 22 Minutes.

“It’s a long shot but it’s kind of my dream job. It’s as good as it gets being a writer.”