Words and photos by Olivia Bauso
Not everyone can be funny, but anyone who is can be a comic-- if they’ve got the guts.
Local comedian Woody Battaglia admits he first got his start in comedy because he was bored with his regular life. He says, “I always thought about doing stand-up as a kid, but I had never realized that there was a way to do it. It didn’t occur to me that it was a job that people figure out and do, and that you can just go to an open mic and get on stage.”
Born and raised in Rochester, Woody finished high school and joined the United States Army Reserve for several years before beginning his run in the food-service industry. During this time, he attended MCC and SUNY Brockport for English/Creative Writing. As a kid, Woody was quite the bookworm, and sent his mother to the bookstore for books like she was buying groceries for a starving family. “Writing a novel was a huge thing that I had always wanted to do. As it turns out, it’s really hard to write a book,” he laughs. Woody continues, “I think that my particular life skill set and attention span lends itself to shorter-form writing, like jokes, or sketches. I never ended up writing a novel and kind of felt like a big failure because of it, but it’s a super solitary activity with little feedback. Writing a book was tough, but when I started doing stand-up, it was very easy and exciting because there was an instant payoff.”
Woody explains the joys of stand-up compared to other art forms: “In stand-up, there’s the clearest line to whether or not you are doing well. I think you can perform an entire play and not really know if you did well or whether the audience was on your side; there’s a lot of politeness there. Stand-up is the purest form of getting what you want immediately, which is laughter and applause.”
While Woody had always considered taking the stage, he got his real start in comedy by accident. “It’s a funny story,” he says. He goes on to explain that while working as a waiter in a restaurant, he entered a team-building talent show as a stand-up comic. He explains, “I went to Barnes & Noble and wrote pages and pages of what I thought were really great jokes and… they were not good jokes. I mean I was being too clever and I didn’t really understand what I was doing-- I could have benefited from someone telling me how to craft a joke and how they work on stage.” Though the feedback from the night primarily consisted of pity laughs from friendly co-workers, Woody hasn’t missed a week on the stage since that night 6 ½ years ago.
Woody admits, “I never thought of myself as funny as a kid. I was very shy and I rarely talked at all.” It wasn’t until his mother encouraged him to get into drama in high school that he really began to open up and explore his funny side. He explains, “You get friends and you start joking around and things like that, but still never really thought of myself as funny until I was in my 20s. I had a new group of friends and we used to watch a ton of comedy stuff and started kind of trying to tell jokes to each other. At a certain point I remember saying to a friend, ‘I think I’m getting funnier!’ I mean, I was impressed with myself and my progress.” Many of Woody’s friends were surprised when he began a career in comedy, despite frequent displays of humor, satire, and wit in his work and interactions.
For the past 6 1/2 years, Woody has worked to embrace and refine his funniness on stage. “Comedy, especially stand-up comedy, lacks organization completely. It can happen in any sort of place, there’s no governing body or standards. There’s a lot of ‘pay your dues’ and ‘wait until you do X to call yourself a comic,’ and that’s all garbage stuff,” Woody says. He currently hosts several weekly open mics (Tuesdays at the Firehouse Saloon & Wednesdays at ButaPub) and produces a more curated weekly show, The Bug Jar’s Comedy Cocoon, where he gets to perform a regular set. Woody also co-hosts a monthly showcase with his former student, Jane Ives, on the last Friday of each month at Rosen Krown. While stand-up is best experienced in the room, Woody has always been a self-proclaimed “audio person.” About two and a half years ago, he joined his love of radio, podcasts and comedy to become a host of Almost Tuesday each Monday night on WAYO 104.3 FM and created the podcast My Minute With Andre.
It can be tempting to leave home and pursue stand-up in a larger city, but Woody believes the local comedy community has immense potential. This Fall, he will be putting 38 local comics onstage at SOTA during the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival, but thinks Rochester has enough talent in its midst to put on its own full-blown comedy festival. If he decides to stick around, this may be his next big goal. He says, “I’m always looking to organize some big thing with a lot of moving parts. I like the challenge of it, I like the spectacle of it, and especially the opportunity to put comics on stage.” Woody has a soft-spot for new comedians and enjoys listening to the early days of now-famous comedians. He says, “New stand-ups are fascinating to me. They like it and they want to do it, but they don’t really know what it is.”
Woody has now been teaching and giving comedy advice for years. “You can watch [another comic] and not quite pick up on what they’re doing. It can be so casual and the part that you find funny is not necessarily instructive on how to construct your own jokes,” he says. He adds, “Some people are against stand-up classes because they feel like it’s a pure art form that no one can learn from a teacher. But I’m not teaching people to be funny, I’m teaching them practical tips on how to present the funny thing that they’ve already thought of.”
Want to unleash and train your inner comedian? Register for Woody's You Will Leave This Room With Five Funny Jokes class on Wednesday, September 5th!