CONQUERING LEARNING CHALLENGES WITH COMEDY: STILL DYSLEXIC & ECSTATIC AFTER ALL THESE YEARS

THE GOW SCHOOL

I just performed at a fundraiser for THE GOW SCHOOL, an all-male dyslexic boarding school where I’m a proud alum, Class of ’90. Gow is in South Wales, New York (by Buffalo); and it’s the best school in the country for children with dyslexia. The fundraiser’s goal was to, strangely enough, raise funds for scholarships to the school.

It had been 21 years since I was last at Gow, and it has incredibly changed. The campus has expanded, the food’s WAY better, and students are now allowed to spend the night off campus at their girlfriends! Understand, when I was a student; we wore coat and ties to every class, had mandatory studyhall every night and on our only night we were allowed off campus to hit The Mall (Sat nite, ‘cause of the half-day Saturday classes)…..our curfew was 10pm. Our school rulemakers had the mindset of Lithgow in Footloose.

My friends, you know I’m a “Mr. Brightside” kind of guy; and I saw no other possible attitude to have when you were a teenager stuck with these academic laws. So I thought, “Hey, Saturday classes are cool, ‘cause we get a month off for Christmas; a month off for Spring Break, and 4 months off in the summer. And as for having a 10pm curfew….well, at least we get to see “Saturday Night Live”. (And this is back when it was funny!)

In my show, I was asked to tell my story of dyslexic student-turned-dyslexic internationally touring comedian. I only had to do half an hour; so I planned to do 15 minutes of My Story, and 15 minutes of my act. Well, I had so much fun telling the story and improving with the crowd……by the time I was done with it, I was already at 26 minutes! So I asked the audience if they were in the mood for some jokes; they excitedly screamed and applauded; and I happily granted their wish. (In retrospect, it was probably my wish, too.)

Here’s a couple of quick memories from my recent experience at The Gow School:

We had dinner before the auction and show; and again, the food was delicious. I sat next to the father of a Gow alum, and he caustically sneered, “Well, the food’s always better when the parents show up. When schools need money, suddenly dinner vastly improves.” Hilariously cynical. With his personality, I’m surprised everything he eats doesn’t taste bitter.

I told a story about a teacher in which I imitated him…..and I decided NOT to mention his name because HE WAS THERE! He’s a very bright guy, but his voice sounds like the ultimate meathead jock – just like Chet from Weird Science. The tale ends after the teacher caught me sneaking into a party for “Well-Behaved Students only”; he sneered, “I can’t believe you have the AUDACITY to come here.” I responded, “I can’t believe you know the word AUDACITY.”

It was wonderful connecting with some of my old teachers who still teach at Gow, although I saw one in the audience who didn’t speak to me after the show…..which makes me think he was either in a mad rush to get somewhere, didn’t approve of my material, or is still scarred by my zany high school shenanigans. Whatever his reason may be, I definitely had an effect on him.

I promised the school I’d keep my show family-friendly….and I did! Honestly, the worst word I said was “Jackass”; but here’s the joke I was most worried about:

“My wife is short, curvy and bossy. So I call her ‘Titler’.”

I ran it by the Director of Development before the show; she approved it…..and although this bit made some audience members more nervous than Obama watching a Joe Biden press conference, the headmaster was chortling! That’s all that matters. The headmaster is fantastic. I met him for the first time, and I can tell he loves his job and really cares about his students. After my show, he told the crowd “Claude showed us a lot of passion. We always talk about how important passion is here at Gow.” That meant the world to me; ‘cause a world without passion is a world without creativity or art.

I really enjoyed talking to the kids. I met a variety of Gow students – some class clowns; some well-behaved straightedges; some were as chill as Snoop Dogg; some were as hyper as a ferret on a triple expresso; some were from Manhatten, The Caymen Islands, Asia and the Middle East, but they all had one thing in common: they were are smart, talented individuals who happened to have learning challenges….and bright futures. A few of the kids read some of their poetry before dinner; it was moving and full of “passion”. One of my favorite moments onstage was when I asked, “Does anybody speak Spanish?”, and an Asian kid immediately raised his hand!

And much love to the young first-year student I kept calling “The Fetus” and “Hannah Montana”! You’re a great sport, and thanks for the school tour, Little Man.

One student told me after my show, “That was inspiring. Watching you tell the story of pursuing and living your dreams makes me want to live my dreams, too. Thank you.”

Hey – I was just trying to do my job, brother. Thank you for letting me know I did.

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2 Comments

  1. Hey, Claude, my favorite-itinerant-comedy-guy:
    This is a fantastic piece about the Gow fundraiser. A man with a heart is better than one without, although that prevents s Method acting version of the Tin Man. And with the blond hair, U don’t even need extra straw under your hat lol! (reaching a little, but whatever, sue me lol).
    Please be sure my email is on the list. had I known you were here in Colo Springs on Valentine’s Day, I would have been laughing rather than moping. CYA next time around…. Maureen


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