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Clayton State students get lesson in humor

By Greg Gelpi

To some he may be just a class clown, but Clayton College & State University student Cody Wilson wants to turn his antics into a career.

Wilson, 24, of Morrow joined others to get advice from and hear the story of Atlanta comedian Mark Podijil, who contributed jokes to "Saturday Night Live"'s Weekend Update segment in 2001.

"Once you get someone to laugh, it just steam-rolls and you just like it more and more," Wilson, a communications major, who wants to pursue a career in comedy, said.

Podijil, 31, graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in geology and worked a year as an environmental consultant programming databases. Work behind the computer turned to work on the stage after he took an improvisation class at Dad's Garage in Little Five Points.

Soon, he formed a troupe with friends and later created TheRag.com, an online comedy publication. The publication attracted the attention of "Saturday Night Live" and led to him contributing jokes to the show.

Podijil, who works as a contract software programmer, appeared at Clayton State as part of the "An Evening With..." series and attracted comedians-to-be as well as fans of comedy.

"It's an escape from real life," Ashley Phillips, 23, of Conyers said. "I like the stage, but not to speak."

Phillips was introduced to improvisation comedy earlier this year through a friend who is a member of the Whole World Theatre in Atlanta.

Podijil said that Atlanta is a "burgeoning" spot for comedy.

Although he admitted to being "pelted with Peeps" when he opened up for a heavy metal band, Podijil said it's important not to be afraid of trying new things and not to follow the crowd when it comes to comedy.

"Don't be afraid of being different," he said. "The way to get noticed is to stand out."

With a fondness of math jokes, he called his humor "geeky."

"You never know what's going to work until you try it," Podijil said.

One of the enduring qualities of "Saturday Night Live" has been its ability to adapt and stay "current," Clayton State Theater Director Phillip DePoy said.

"News is funny," DePoy said. "Ask anybody."

Rather than poking fun at obscure characters in history or some other eclectic reference, comedians take advantage of the universality of the news and those in the news, he said.

The Weekend Update segment of the show was there in the first season and is still on the show today.

"I think one of the funniest shows on television today is 'The Today Show,'" DePoy said, drawing a parallel with Weekend Update.

Podijil is working on a novel as well as updates on his Web site. DePoy mentioned the possibility that the university could host an improvisation seminar at some point as a follow-up to Podijil's visit.