As Harvard students left campus this spring break, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) cameras rolled in to tape a "College of Comedy" special.
Approximately 300 people attended the March 27 taping in Sanders Theatre, which was hosted by comedian Alan King.
Two Harvard students, Michael B. Fertik '00 and Mandel N. Ilagan '99, managed not only to be part of the audience but also to become "an integral part" of the actual production, Fertik said.
The show was structured as "a town meeting to discuss comedy and how it has changed over the past few decades," Ilagan said.
A panel of comedians composed both of comedy kings and of people new to the business presided over the "town meeting."
Among these comedians were Buddy Hackett, Tim Conway, Paul Rodriguez and Judy Gold, a writer for "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," all of whom, according to Ilagan, are "as funny off stage as on stage."
During his spring break in Florida, Ilagan was contacted by Eric Engel, the events coordinator at Sanders Theatre. Engel had seen tapes of stand-up comedy performed by Ilagan for Harvard-Radcliffe Television's show "The Common Room," of which Ilagan is the head writer and co-producer.
Ilagan then contacted Fertik, a fellow writer for "The Common Room" who was in town for crew practice, and the two of them joined the PBS team.
The result was that the pair were able to meet some of the comedy legends whom they had long admired and also to get suggestions about their own comedy, Ilagan said.
"I can't come up with enough words to describe the feeling of just being with them, just talking with them," Ilagan said.
In the actual production, the two were assigned to be "plants" in the audience and to help King and the rest of the comedians during the question-and-answer period of the show, Fertik said.
The experience was important for Ilagan because he plans to pursue a career in comedy, he said.
"It was an eye-opening experience that showed that even though I have a lot to work on myself, I want to go into [comedy] career-wise," Ilagan said.
His involvement with "College of Comedy" may prove to be useful for Ilagan in pursuing this career because through it he was able to make contacts with established writers and comedians, he said.
"Hopefully [the experience] will lead to bigger and better things in the future," Ilagan said.
Fertik, who said he plans to be involved with serious drama in the future, also found the experience to be enriching.
"The experience confirmed that comedy, far from being a series of off-the-cuff clever remarks, is a very serious art form," Fertik said.
Not only was their involvement useful for their futures, but it was also "a blast" in Ilagan's words and "a thrill" in Fertik's.
The Harvard segment of "College of Comedy" is the first in a series of four such shows to be filmed at colleges around the country. It will air on PBS in October.