SHERIDAN — Mark Bell was told by coworkers that he was pretty funny. Bell, who occasionally watched comedy acts when they came into town, never imagined trying it out himself. After the slight push from coworkers, though, he decided to sit down and write out a comedy sketch. He eventually performed for crowds at Luminous Brewhouse and the Sheridan Elks Lodge 520, but attendance dwindled as time went on.
Now, Bell helps host an amateur comedy night at Rendezvous Liquor and Lounge every so often, with an open microphone opportunity to encourage novices to practice on a forgiving crowd.
“People are really intimidated by it, and what I always tell them…if you want to do it, you’ll do it,” Bell said.
And that’s exactly how Bell started. After being encouraged that he had what it took to stand in front of a crowd and crack jokes worthy of laughing at from his coworkers at The Salvation Army, Bell journeyed into reading a book outlining the classic structure of a stand-up routine.
While Bell was writing his first sketch, he started laughing to himself. When he practiced onstage, though, he discovered he had more of a relationship with his cue cards than the audience.
From then on, he practiced enough to memorize his skits.
Bell slowly started recruiting people to the informal comedy group, which now includes Richard Corbin, a veteran who arrived to Sheridan after being displaced by the hurricane that hit Houston, Texas, in the fall of 2017.
Corbin, a native from Wales who faced less-than-welcome faces at a local Sheridan agency, was 10 miles out of town before he received a call from the Volunteers of America Northern Rockies, who asked him to stay a night at Freedom Hall. As a child, Corbin would travel with his grandfather to the Sheridan WYO Rodeo and considered Sheridan the only other home he had in the United States outside of Houston.
“‘If you came here because you felt like you were going to be home, I’m telling you this is home,” Corbin recalled the VOANR employee telling him during the call. “‘Come back; stay the night with us. If you don’t like it, then you can leave.’”
Corbin spent a couple nights at Freedom Hall, found an apartment and has been living in Sheridan since.
Despite what Corbin perceived as a rude welcome into the town he considered home, he found — and still finds — solace and purpose in volunteering at the Salvation Army. He received help from the group and serves the organization three times per week.
It was there he met Bell, who encouraged him to try comedy in a similar way Bell’s coworkers did for him.
“(Bell) loves comedy and he says, ‘You’re funny around here. You say a lot of funny things. I’ve got this comedy routine I want to start in Sheridan. Would you just do a little something?’ I said sure,” Corbin said.
What Corbin had planned for the day — which included UFOs and a dressed mannequin — immediately escaped from his head when he watched a scuffle between old men immediately before entering the Rendezvous last Sunday.
Despite his bit escaping his brain, he still performed a routine about “real life” and his journey to America. Corbin said he saw people’s eyes light up when he spoke fondly of his new home in Wyoming.
In front of a forgiving crowd and encouraging fellow performers, the stand-up comedy acts have come alive in Sheridan again, and Bell hopes it continues to grow.