When Garrison Leykam was challenged last year to enroll in a New York City standup-comedy class, Leykam didn't just agree to the terms, he made a documentary about his experience.
The challenge came when comedy teacher Stephen Rosenfield appeared on Leykam's Connecticut radio show, "Conversation Crossroad." Rosenfield invited Leykam to give his New York City comedy class a try, and Leykam, who'd always considered himself a funny guy but had never actually done any standup, went for it.
Comic on a Half Shell is a little less than an hour long, and follows 63-year-old Leykam's transformation from Connecticut local radio host to New York City standup comic. It was put together by Connecticut School of Broadcasting student Michael McGovern and soundtracked by local indie artist Rorie Kelly. The whole thing only cost Leykam about $500.
"When I accepted the challenge to do [the comedy class], I started to think to myself, 'This is too good to let slip through my fingers without some sort of remembrance of it,'" Leykam, who lives in Farmington, told the Advocate in a recent phone interview. "Something told me there'd be something real cool to capture here."
Leykam commuted to New York City for classes and workshops, writing and experimenting with original material he'd prepared for the class. The documentary even lets us in on Rosenfield's and Leykam's one-on-one lesson, in which Rosenfield edits Leykam's jokes and makes suggestions about joke timing and phrasing. Leykam and his classmates rehearse their routines, adjusting a punchline delivery here, a swear-word upgrade or downgrade there.
Leykam's jokes seem strong, and with some amount of tweaking, begin to draw bigger laughs from the classroom, and we get to see his fellow students testing and workshopping their own jokes, too. Mostly, Leykam's jokes are observational and self-deprecating. (He says he really admires comedians like George Carlin and Robin Williams.) In one joke about going on a date with a woman who says she's turned on by men who kayak, Leykam says, "I mean, jeez, the last time I worked out was this morning when I tried to put my socks on."
The revision process seems tedious and tough, and you can't help but feel a lot of admiration for the guy, who takes criticism well and keeps making improvements to the same set of jokes. At the documentary's climax, Leykam and the rest of the class premiere their routines at the Gotham Comedy Club for the first time. It doesn't look easy.
"I'd say the five minutes I was waiting for my time to go up was probably the most terrified five minutes of my life," says Leykam. "But you walk up to the stage and it all just happens. After you get through the fear and after you actually do it, the very, very cool thing is that you feel like Superman. Now there's nothing I can't do."
It's that feeling Leykam wants to share with everyone, both by making this documentary and by running a series of empowerment workshops at the Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford, starting in October.
He wants to show people "basically how to go after something you've never done and find the confidence and the resources." He'll poll the class, find out some of the aspirations shared by attendees of the workshop, and bring in various authorities on things like writing or mountain climbing.
"Everybody's got something lurking in the back of their mind that they want to do," he says. "Here's how to go after it and find the courage."
You can buy Comic on a Half Shell at comiconahalfshell.com or at Amazon.