Cranston's John Perrotta trains a new cast of comedians

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Getting up on a stage is harrowing for most people, but getting up on a stage to tell jokes that they wrote themselves may bring some people to tears.

However, for the 22 graduates of the $200 comedy course taught by professional comedians including Cranston residents Coleen Galvin Yaroshenko, comedy Hall of Fame inductee John Perrotta, and the founder of the Rhode Island Comedy Hall of Fame, Joe Hebert, it was enjoyable.

With a combined total of around 100 years performing, the staff had the qualifications necessary to share their knowledge and experiences.

Perrotta came to the stage when he did comedy briefly in the 1980s at Periwinkles Comedy Club. He started back up in 1991. He’s opened for Bill Burr, closed a show at the legendary Friars Club in New York City, and will be performing on a cruise to the Bahamas in 2019.

“I am doing this class to help other people try to get into stand-up comedy,” Perrotta said. “I took a class in 1991 taught by Frank O'Donnell. That class helped me immensely. I learned enough to get my comedy career going.”

Perrotta is proud of the first class, and is booking some of the comics in his shows with the Comedy Factory. 

"I put shows together at clubs & restaurants throughout New England,” he said. “July and August are typically the slowest months for comedy. I am looking forward to the fall when things really pick up. I love performing stand-up and my goal is to continue to perform as long as I possibly can. By staying in the business, things can happen at any time.”

He also credits his long-time friendships with Hebert and Yaroshenko as the key to doing a good job teaching the class.

Perrotta also believes that good and bad advice impacted his career.

"The best advice I ever got was, 'continue to get on stage as often as you can'. This is true for a comic starting out and also for a comic like myself. The worst advice is someone telling you it's too hard, and to not pursue a comedy career," he said.

Hebert, who is a true comedy chameleon; performing as a singer, to doing stand-up, trained as a hypnotist, and most recently turned entrepreneur when he founded the Rhode Island Comedy Hall of Fame in 2011.

"I started my career in June, 1985 after Carolyn Fox played my songs on WHJY,” Hebert said. “I chauffeured Tommy Chong around for three solid days that I can't recall. Mike Butts, formerly of PRO-FM hired me as a writer and sidekick in 1993, after seeing me perform. From PRO-FM I went to B101 with Daria Bruno and then to ROCK-102 in New London all because I started in stand up.”

Hebert strongly feels there is a place for classes like this.

"There was a need for the $200 Comedy Course. There's nothing like it in the area. Three instructors with eons of experience, six weeks of two-hour classes, a cool graduation/live show and a paid gig. Everyone makes friends and it's a very cool environment to be a part of," he said.

The success of the first class guaranteed more. 

"This first class was a grand slam. We had 22 students. It was so much fun. We met and worked with some truly funny people. We had a graduation show where everyone performed for their family and friends," he said.

Hebert has high praise for his colleagues.

"We're family,” he said. “John, Coleen and I love each other. We've known one another forever. Adding Coleen to the faculty, was the best decision John and I have made. She's a gifted performer and a brilliant writer. We all bring something different to the table, but Coleen has super powers. She runs the class. John and I just help out. Seriously, she's the glue.”

By being on stage for so long, Hebert knows the value of changing his material to stay relevant.

"I'm in the process of revamping my show. It's overdue. I also want to find a permanent home for the RI Comedy Hall of Fame. That's a priority. And of course, continually improving the $200 Comedy Course," he said.

The reasons people signed up for the course is as varied as the comedians themselves.

"I know of at least ten students still pursuing stand up from the class. People took the class for different reasons. Some to cross it off their bucket list, some to find out if they have what it takes to write their own material and perform in front of an audience and others just took it for fun. We even had a father and son take it to be able to do something they both liked, together," Hebert said.

Along with the three full-time instructors, there have been guest performers come in to share.

"We had Jerry Caruso of Comics for a Cure in Massachusetts come to speak, as well as Bill Simas of Funny4Funds and Skip Daniels, (The Prince if Mystery),” he said. “Each speaker gave a half hour speech, sharing their experiences in the field of stand up and answered questions for the class. This time we'll have other guest speakers involved. Mike Murray of Funny4Funds is one we've confirmed so far.”

The graduates themselves have nothing but praise for the class and instructors.

"I wanted to let you know what a great experience this class has been,” said Cranston resident Adrianna Pagano. “It was always on my bucket list to do some comedy whether it  be in stand up or comedy writing. I didn't even know a class like this existed that's why I would love to help get the word out. These three amazing professional comics are wonderful at helping you feel at ease while giving you so much information on the industry.

“It is definitely a no judgment zone, only positive guidance,” she continued. “Everyone else that took the class was also so supportive it became like a team environment. Everyone only wanted each other to succeed. After the six weeks they have a graduation where you can invite all family and friends to witness your achievement and it's a great way to get your feet wet on stage.

“Going forward the team continually helps you if you reach out plus they work with you to get gigs and perform out there in the comedy world,” she continued. “These are down to earth people that are looking to help you out with your dream whatever it may be in this field. I can't say enough about them.”

Warwick resident Robert Anderson was also thrilled with his experience.

"John Perrotta, Joe Hebert and Coleen Galvin Yaroshenko were very professional and very knowledgeable about comedy,” he said. “They broke down comedy to it's purist form and helped us not only figure out what kind of comic we each wanted to be but how to write and deliver that kind of comedy to an audience. They did a tremendous job of helping many of us just to get past our fear of talking in front of a group and on a Mic. They teach you how to have that confidence to succeed in comedy.

“But they don't just teach you and wish you luck,” he continued. “They continue after the school to be there for you if you have questions and make you a welcomed member of the comedy world. They treat you like an equal and continue to help you find your place in comedy and even help you with bookings. Its truly an amazing experience and I made some great friendships with the comics I've met and am very thankful to all three of them for helping and guiding me towards my dream of entertaining.”

Students all receive one paid gig upon graduation and are always invited to showcases at the Pub on Park (in Cranston) on Mondays as well as the showcases John Perrotta hosts at The Comedy Connection.

The next class will be starting Monday, August 20 at the VFW Post# 183, 172 Washington Street Warwick, R.I. The classes run from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 pm. On Saturday, October 20, there will be a graduation show where everyone in the class will hit the stage. There are still a few spots available. Anyone interested in signing up can call John Perrotta at 639-7726.

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