Appearing under a spotlight at the Ground Zero Performance Café, Greg Grabarek wields a microphone on the small stage.
“If we go to Disneyland and you go on the rides, it’s like Splash Mountain — you get it. The mountain, the splash — there’s a whole theme going on. You go on the Haunted Mansion — it’s a house; there’s ghosts. It makes sense. If you go to Six Flags, you get Ninja … What’s Ninja? Am I the ninja? Am I riding on a ninja? Am I fighting a ninja on a train? What is the theme? There is no theme! What is the mythos of the ride Ninja? I don’t understand.”
Grabarek, 19, is a biomedical engineering undergraduate at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering by day and a stand-up comedian by night.
Originally from Chicago, he found inspiration in the comedy of Pete Holmes, Chris Hardwick and Scott Aukerman, among others. When he came to USC, he decided to take advantage of an open mic night and began his foray into comedy.
Since then, Grabarek has appeared in three different shows on TrojanVision, USC’s student-run TV station: Platforum is a discussion program, Trailer Park reviews movie trailers and Showcase highlights USC-made student films.
Grabarek’s appearances aren’t limited to the University Park Campus. He’s performed at open mic nights around Los Angeles and has appeared at the Laugh Factory.
Getting started was the hardest part, he said, because it can be very intimidating, especially when you don’t know how the audience will react to you and your material.
Grabarek’s life in comedy does not usually cross paths with his studies as an engineering student.
“I do, however, think science and engineering promote a type of critical analysis that is really helpful in comedy or writing in general,” he said. “It asks you to question, ‘OK, but why does this work?’ or more likely, ‘OK, why is this a total failure?’ which is a great road toward a comedic perspective.”
Although not normally a purveyor of one-liner comedy, Grabarek drew on his engineering education to write some USC Viterbi jokes definitely worthy, as he said, of a Popsicle stick.
Which mathematical plane would you need to locate the star of Parks and Recreation? Poehler coordinates.
My hands always hurt when I drive underground with other people in my car. The doctor says I have something called carpool tunnel.
Where do pachyderms go to study neuroscience? The hippocampus.
I’m really tired of explaining Archimedes’ principle to other students. Honestly, how dense can you be?
I’m working on a screenplay for a romantic comedy about an engineer who can’t seem to juggle both school and her love life. It’s called Constance and Variables.
What do you call diabetic patients who don’t listen to their doctors? Insulent.
Rim shot, please.