At Flappers Comedy Club in Burbank, California, an Elon University student took the stage.
“I was fat as a child, guys,” she said to the audience.
The following five minute set that is sharp, witty and outrageously funny. She is a natural, with an air of Amy Schumer and a fast-paced routine that includes stories from the doctor as an overweight child to her experience at Festivus.
She is a comedy queen in the making. She is senior Rebecca Hurd.
Hurd is a Bachelor of Arts acting and cinema and television arts major with a passion for comedy and improv. But growing up, she didn’t realize she had a knack for comedy.
During high school, Hurd was involved with theater, but it wasn’t until she got into both Elon Tonight, a sketch comedy show, and Instant Laughter, an improv troupe, her freshman year that she revealed her sense of humor.
“I auditioned for both on a whim, and when I got in it gave me this affirmation of, ‘Oh wow, maybe I can do comedy,’” Hurd said. “It totally changed my path and now this is what I want to do.”
Last year, Hurd wrote her first sketch for Elon Tonight, called "Troll Booth," where she played a troll who worked at a toll booth. This was her first experience writing for sketch comedy, and she said it was amazing to see the process of conceptualization of the idea to shooting and then having it be made into a tangible product.
Senior Matt Lee, a producer on Elon Tonight, has worked with Hurd on numerous sketches and said she is the "Amy Poehler of Elon."
“Working with Rebecca is always fun because you are challenged to get on her level,” Lee said. “No matter what you do with her you will create something entertaining for everyone.”
A recent sketch that Hurd approached Lee about creating was a music video parody about pumpkin spice, which now has over 4,000 views on YouTube.
“Rebecca wrote, produced, directed and starred in the video,” Lee said. “Elon Tonight would not be where it is today without her performances and creative ideas.”
In the summer of 2014, Hurd went to Chicago for the first time and took a two week summer intensive program at Second City, an improv comedy theater whose former students include Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Steve Carell.
She took improv and sketch writing classes, and began coming up with the idea of "Troll Booth" there. The classes gave her the baseline skills for sketch writing and instilled confidence in her that she was able to bring back for writing and performing at Elon.
Classes at Second City gave Hurd the push to pursue comedy in Chicago after she graduates Elon in the spring.
“I hope to move there and take lots of comedy and improv classes, start auditioning and try to get representation for myself,” Hurd said.
After building her credentials in Chicago, Hurd hopes to move to Los Angeles, where there are more than 200 Elon alumni to make connections with.
Keeping on the down low
Though Hurd has big dreams, she speaks of her achievements and involvement in comedy quite modestly, something Lee said is in her nature.
“Rebecca is a caring and humble person, and she doesn’t let her success define her,” he said. “She is loyal to her friends and is always there to help when needed.”
Female comedians have been breaking the glass ceiling of comedy from as early as Joan Rivers to modern-day Amy Schumer. When Hurd was in LA this summer for the Elon in LA program, she performed stand-up at Flappers Comedy Club in Burbank, and was the only female comedian during the night, opening for two professional male comedians.
It took her a month and half to convince herself to audition for an open-mic night, but she eventually took the plunge and was booked for a Friday night. She was moved up to the main room, performing a five-minute set.
Hurd’s first experience performing stand-up was last spring in Irazu, performing with alumnus Powell Mansfield '15. To plan her routine, she explained that she keeps a running note on her phone whenever she finds inspiration for a character, a joke or hears something funny — a habit she has had since high school.
“When it came to do the show with Powell, I went through all my notes and put everything on paper to see what material I was working with,” Hurd said. “I started to try and draw connections between them and create a kind of arc.”
She said another technique for creating a stand-up routine is to find something that annoys, irks or intrigues you, and then expand upon that point.
While in LA, Hurd had two internships, one as a casting assistant with Michael Donovan Casting and another with a talent agency. She particularly enjoyed her casting internship because of the hands-on experience.
“It was a lot of interaction with actors and talking with casting directors about what they look for in an actor and helping run auditions,” she said.
In addition to taking acting class and juggling two internships, Hurd worked on student films with her friends in the program, including starring in “S P A C E S”, a short, student film about the relationship between a girl and her brother.
The film was submitted to several festivals, including SPARKcon, an art and design festival in Raleigh. It was accepted into the festival and was presented in September.
“All of us who worked on the film are friends, so it was such a great process and the product is awesome,” Hurd said. “It is the most proud thing that I have on my reel.”
Hurd’s most recent performance was in Elon's fall play, "Harper Regan," where she played the title character, a complex and emotional woman reeling with inner demons.
She said she feels lucky to have had the opportunity to graduate with a lead role, something that not everyone in the acting program can accomplish, despite the immense talent of her peers.
Portraying Harper allowed Hurd to hone her craft as an actor and gave her confidence about being cast in future dramatic roles, compared to the comedy she is more comfortable with.
“That I could be seen as someone who is serious and dramatic is something that I have never been seen as,” Hurd said. “Comedy is primarily what I want to do and where I want to start, but I would love to pursue more serious material.”
Hurd has come full-circle, as her start as an acting major was not what she had hoped.
Traditionally, the audition process for Elon's acting program begins senior year of high school. Hurd auditioned, but was rejected. She came to Elon nonetheless and auditioned again for the program her freshman year, but was denied again.
“I was upset because I was trying to find how I could be happy at Elon, especially because acting was something that I wanted to do,” Hurd said.
But toward the end of her freshman year, she received a phone call from Fred Rubeck, the head of the department of performing arts, and got the opportunity to become a part of the acting program.
“It has been a really cool journey to know that I was rejected twice and then I got the lead of Harper my senior year,” she said. “It’s a good lesson that when one door closes, another opens.”