Local baseball player takes a swing at improv comedy

Ethan Blumenthal (standing) leads a workshop at Knuckleball Comedy’s Professional Development Day for Youth Guidance. – David Kaplinsky 

By JAMIE A. COOLEY
Herald Intern

Hyde Park resident and baseball enthusiast Ethan Blumenthal decided to take a swing at comedy, using his natural improv comedy abilities to create a business.

Before learning that comedy was something that he was passionate about Blumenthal, who grew up and still resides in the Hyde Park neighborhood, was a baseball player at Hyde Park’s only Jewish Day School, Akiba-Schechter, 5235 S. Cornell Ave.

“I grew up playing baseball at the Hyde Park Legends at what we called ‘Shoesmith Park’ and I played basketball at the Southside YMCA, so yeah, I grew up here and this is where I live and do everything.”

Throughout school sports, especially baseball, was one of his main focuses.

Blumenthal played baseball throughout grade school and college. He attended Oberlin College in Ohio then finished out his senior year and graduated Summa Cum Laude from Beloit College in Wisconsin.

His senior year of college was when comedy sprang into his life and he decided to pursue it.

“When I was a senior in college, my roommate and I were just thinking ‘I think we’re pretty funny guys,’” he remembered.

“That’s how anyone has to start out comedy and no one wants to admit it but yeah, we thought we were funny people.”

After this thought arose into Blumenthal’s mind, he began doing stand-up comedy around the city of Chicago, including places such as the Sketch Comedy Festival and Second City. His first time being on stage was challenging and nerve wrecking, but he did not stop there.

His baseball career had now taken him to Australia for about nine months and while he was there, he kept at it with improv.

Of course, while in a different country, he laughed at the fact that his jokes included humor about the stereotypical American culture. Australia drew big crowds for Blumenthal to practice and get more comfortable being on stage and telling his jokes.

His stand-up comedy strategy is storytelling, much like his comedic inspiration Aziz Ansari.

Further down the road, the thought of “Knuckleball Comedy” came about. Blumenthal made up this business idea at home.

Knuckleball Comedy is an improv comedy company that provides classes for children in schools.

“Much like anybody who wants to start a company, the idea [of Knuckleball Comedy] came to me at home with my computer in my lap,” he said.

The thought process behind this was that through baseball, Blumenthal had worked with and coached a lot of kids and he is a strong believer that improv comedy can motivate kids to come out of their shells and have fun.

“I had never heard of improv comedy while I was growing up,” Blumenthal said. “I was in all these schools doing all these sports but comedy wasn’t an option. Some schools have theatre but not improv. It’s something that I wished I had learned in school for so many reasons.”

Blumenthal said he started the company just by himself, sending proposals to different schools, seeing if they would be interested. The first school that Ethan brought Knuckleball Comedy to was his former school, Akiba.

With only starting his company in February of 2016, Blumenthal has already brought Knuckleball Comedy improv classes to about 18 different schools such as St. Thomas the Apostle School, 5467 S. Woodlawn Ave. and student centers including the Hyde Park Jewish Community Center, 5200 S. Hyde Park Blvd., and the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, 5480 S. Kenwood Ave.

Now, the company has a curriculum, summer classes, a comedic style, sketch comedy courses with a few more instructors to help Blumenthal out. The kids’ programs are from kindergarten up to 8th grade but they also offer comedy classes for senior citizens.

“I think it’s a good way to enhance their memory and continue to work their minds when a lot of the time they aren’t challenging themselves,” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal said he wants to provide his community with knowledge on comedy and hopes that, in return, he will be accredited with motivating people to branch out and do something great.

hpherald@hpherald.com