BEST BETS: Smyrna’s Purnell in a comedy class by himself

Smyrna’s Keith Purnell will lead the “Comedy Classroom” starting Tuesday at the Milton Theatre. (Submitted photo)

After 25 years as a standup comedian, Smyrna resident Keith Purnell has learned a thing or two about getting a laugh. And he’s hoping to pass along that wisdom to others.

Mr. Purnell, along with fellow comic Ty Jamison, will lead the “Comedy Classroom” starting Tuesday night at the Milton Theatre.

The show pits six to eight budding stand-ups who will compete for the night and be given feedback by the hosts as well as the audience. Winners voted “Most likely to succeed” will have the opportunity to be featured in a future stand-up comedy show at the Milton Theatre.

This open mic format requires advance sign-up, which can be done by emailing info@pcade.com. Shows are every second and fourth Tuesday of the month through May.

“After they’re done, we give them feedback like ‘American Idol’. Maybe we’ll tell them to work on this or that or they don’t have to go too dirty there. And then audience members can give them input and we can say ‘Well, no. That’s not quite right.’ Although often just laughter is its own critique,” Mr. Purnell said.

“I wish I had something like this when I started out. All I got was laughter, silence or boos. Silence is worse. At least with boos, you know when they started booing, that they didn’t like that part. With silence, you know they just didn’t like anything.”

Starting at open mic nights in his native Wilmington, Mr. Purnell has grown into a comedian who has performed all across the country, opening for such established comics as Artie Lange, Jim Norton and Dom Irrera, and has won national competitions, including Howard Stern’s “Kill or be Killed” competition in 2006.

He thought radio would be his path as he had a weekly overnight shift at University of Delaware’s WXDR station while a student there.

But a trip to the Comedy Cabaret in Wilmington in the early ’90s changed all that.

“I was hanging out with a buddy one night and we were looking for something to do. So went to this open mic night and we thought we could do that,” he remembered.

“We practiced for weeks and my buddy chickened out at the last minute and I went up by myself and I got laughs and I was hooked. It was a fun rush and I was back the next week and the week after that.”

Soon, five-dollar gigs turned into more lucrative opportunities and a comedy career was born. These days, he produces comedy shows and also DJs but his heart is still in standup.

“I still love it. I was recently just in Wisconsin. I’ve been to Canada and I always say I’ve performed in every township and county in Pennsylvania. But I’ve been down to Florida, New Jersey, North Carolina, you name it.”

The “fortysomething” Mr. Purnell says he doesn’t mind the traveling and every night is a new experience.

“It can be the same routine but it’s always different in the way the audience reacts. I’m pretty good with improv so you just have to roll with it and make sure they don’t throw you off. You always want to avoid the deer in the headlights look,” said Mr. Purnell, who also lived in Dover for five years before recently moving to Smyrna.

“You just have to anticipate where the laughs are going to come and adjust to that.”

There have been bumps in the road, like when he auditioned for HBO’s “Def Comedy Jam” very early in his career.

“I was nowhere near ready. I only had five or 10 minutes of material. The auditions were up in South Orange, New Jersey, which was like a three-hour drive. I started my act and the DJ started up soon after and my mic was cut off,” he recalled.

“I’ll never forget it. Bill Bellamy was the host and he said ‘Keith Purnell. Just get in your car. Drive south and just keep on going.”

He swore he would never do comedy again but that quickly changed and he was back at it.

In 1995, he was a Coors Lite Super Talent Showcase finalist and in 1997, he won a regional Iceland Air Comedy Competition in Baltimore, where the finalists were supposed to compete in Iceland but the event never happened and he got two round-trip plane tickets for anywhere in Europe instead.

He says his act has evolved over the years.

“Early on, I talked about being single and then talked about having a girlfriend and then being married. But I’m a happy guy and I try to stay realistic. Everything is relatable. If I do something in my life, chances are you are going to say ‘Hey, I do that too.’ I stay away from the topical stuff. If I do a Trump joke, it will be about his hair or something like that. I stay out of politics,” he said.

Mr. Purnell has had small parts in movies like “In Her Shoes” and “Dead Poets Society” and says getting a chance at a sitcom would be great but “just staying relevant” is the ultimate goal.

“I’d like to be a bit more famous than I already am. And I’d like to be a millionaire,” he said with a laugh.

Tickets for each “Comedy Classroom” are $5 and available at MiltonTheatre.com, by calling 302-684-3038, or at the door.

The Milton Theatre is at 110 Union St.

‘Hope After Stroke’

Area musicians and friends will gather Sunday afternoon to help a Dover woman in need.

Cynthia Bryant, otherwise known as DJ Dee-Va, suffered a serious stroke in October. She spent a couple of months at Bayhealth-Kent General Hospital and is now at the Milford Rehabilitation Center, where she is learning how to walk again after just recently getting her ability to speak back.

Ms. Bryant has been a well-known disc jockey around the area for the past decade, most recently spinning tunes at American Legion Walter L. Fox Post 2 in Dover.

A good friend, Tonya Stallsworth, is organizing Sunday’s “For the Love of DJ Dee-Va – Hope After Stroke” fundraiser at Dover’s Cowboy Up Saloon from 2 to 7 p.m.

“A group of us were trying to find a way to help her and we came up with this benefit. We wanted to get some bands together but I didn’t have any contacts in that area so I asked Mike Hines if he could help out,” Ms. Stallsworth said.

Mr. Hines, of the popular local band Mike Hines and The Look, said he was more than happy to help and called on not only his own band but some of the area’s most popular acts to lend a hand.

Along with Mike Hines and The Look (5:45 p.m.), Sunday’s benefit will feature contemporary Christian band Glory Road (2:10), formerly The Mari Hill Band; and rock’s Joey Fulkerson Trio (3:15) and Glass Onion (4:30).

“We all go through times when we need the help of others, so when I heard that Cynthia Bryant, aka DJ Dee-Va, had

Cynthia Bryant

a serious stroke, I was very saddened by the news,” Mr. Hines said.

“She’s a good friend and prior to her stroke, she would often come to hear my band. At times, she’d join us on stage for a song or two as well. She rapped, so she would get up with us on ‘Rapper’s Delight’ or ‘Baby Got Back’ when we would play Dover Downs or Harrington Casino.”

Funds raised will go toward helping Ms. Bryant while she is out of work and also her family, which consists of her 28-year-old daughter Brittney and 22-year-old son Brandyn Bryant-Davis. Along with being a DJ, Ms. Bryant also works at the Redner’s grocery store in Camden.

“Her friends wanted to have a fundraiser and my band was more than happy to participate,” Mr. Hines said.

“Some of the area’s greatest musical talents are coming together to perform at this event and give their support.”

There will be a $15 cover charge for the 21-and-over event, which includes a cash bar, 50/50 and silent auction items. Cowboy Up is at 1036 Lafferty Lane, Dover.

To contribute items to the silent auction, call Ms. Stallsworth at 423-0919.

Smallwood exhibit

The William H. Smallwood one-man fine art exhibit is on display at the Dover Public Library until April 2.

A Vietnam veteran, the late Mr. Smallwood, a close friend of the late artist, Jack Lewis, depicted many Delaware historic landmarks, as well as other subjects.

A watercolor, acrylic and pencil artist, he was also a wood sculptor, and an illustrator of two published books. He was proficient in cartooning and caricature portraits.

Mr. Smallwood was closely involved with the Dover Art League for many years and an active member of Delaware By Hand and a parks and recreations fine art teacher of watercolor and cartooning. He was also an active plein air painter.

He passed away in August of 2016.

The Dover Public Library Art Gallery is displaying nearly 99 original paintings and hand-sculptured ducks.

A reception will be held Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Dover Public Library, 35 E. Loockerman St.

For more information, call 302-632-9680 or email myfavjoyce@gmail.com.

Now showing

New in theaters is “Kong: Skull Island.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday are the acclaimed films “Fences” and “Elle”; the sci-fi flick “Passengers”; and “Collateral Beauty” with Will Smith.

To share news of your entertainment event, venue or group, contact Craig Horleman at 741-8224 or chorl@newszap.com.

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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