by Troy Jefferson
Lansing Star Staff Writer
Robert Jenkins enters the SmittenDust Studio in Dimondale… his other place of business. The Detroit native teaches a comedy workshop on Tuesday nights at the arts-focused studio in the Lansing suburb.
The “funny” thing is the prize-winning comedian has taken a different road to stand-up than most. Jenkins is not only a comedian but an attorney.
“I was told I had a good sense of humor,” said Jenkins, who called himself a “class clown.”
Jenkins favorite personal joke
“My neighbor is into deer hunting. I want to try it, but I suffer from ADD. I can’t wait in the woods, but I want to practice. I figure I’ll wait until Jehovah’s Witnesses comes to my door. ‘Sure, I’ll take a Watchtower, just put these antlers on.'”
“I’ve been banned from participating in Halloween. It’s my favorite holiday, but my pet peeve is 15-16 year old kids who don’t have a costume but want candy. I decided to play a game. You want candy with no costume? Sure, just put these antlers on.”
Jenkins grew up idolizing comedians like Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor and Franklyn Ajaye but he always wanted to be an attorney.
The comedy and law professions aren’t as different as one would think. Jenkins said both have their positives. Comedy provides an “immediate payoff” while the legal profession is a “longer payoff.”
One of his workshop participants, Margot Valles, also thought the two professions helped him run the class better. “Jenkins’ experience on stage and in the courtroom was apparent in the comfortable way he ran the class,” said Valles.
Jenkins taught a four-week workshop in which he taught his students how to become better comedians.
Jenkins said it doesn’t even feel like he’s teaching. “It feels more like I’m just leading a discussion.”
Jenkins gave out weekly reading assignments from Greg Dean’s “Step by Step to Stand-Up” and invited local comedians to speak with the class.
“Most of us had zero stand-up experience, while two gentlemen had been open-mic-ing for a while. In other words, he faced a tough and unusual crowd but handled it well,” said Valles.
The workshop was broken up into four parts: humor theory, the “nuts and bolts” of a joke, styling and editing. During my visit at the workshop, Jenkins explained the different styles of comedy.
“I’m a stationary comedian,” said Jenkins, whose towering appearance makes it easy to mistake him for a football player.
Jenkins prefers to stand in one spot and relies more on voice inflection to get his joke across.
Styles can vary in comedy. Seth Winicki, a fellow local comedian, says his jokes are based on things he thinks of throughout the day.
“A lot of the time (my) material comes about when I’m laying in bed and just thinking about things,” said Winicki, who has been performing for about a year.
Some of the things Jenkins talks about during his different standup routines includes relationships, social conventions and his own life.
Jenkins’ comedy career has blossomed over the last couple of years. The comedian/ attorney is booked for a feature weekend in July in Livonia, where he will perform seven 30-minute shows. He also has won third place in the Grand Rapids Funniest Person competition and performs on Monday nights at Mac’s Bar in Lansing.
The comedy side is only one aspect of Jenkins, who has also won published cases in the Michigan Court of Appeals.
“Legal work takes more time,” said Jenkins, who devotes nights and weekends to comedy.
Lansing comedy scene
Mac’s Bar, The Green Door and Connxtions Comedy Club all offer comedy nights or open-mic nights and are within driving distance of Michigan State University.
“The Lansing comedy scene is unique,” said Winicki, who performs at Connxtions. He added, “There are a lot of different comedians and the age varies.”
Robert Jenkins on being an attorney: “Learn civil procedures for your practice and learn the rules.
Robert Jenkins on being a comedian: “Repetition, the more comedy you consume the funnier you will be.”
Seth Winicki on being a comedian: “I would say just go for it. The only way you learn is from getting on stage, and doing it. You can think you’re really funny, but you’ll never know until you do it in front of complete strangers. You have to dive in head first.”
“The comedy workshop was a valuable experience for me both professionally and personally. I had a wonderful time and learned a lot. Rob is a great instructor,” said Valles, who is also a professor at MSU.
Valles teaches IAH 207 or “Humor in 20th Century Jewish Literatures, Cultures and Identities” and said the workshop gave her a new way to theorize humor.