NEW YORK (AP) — Baby-faced 16-year-old Eric Kurn climbed onto the comedy club stage, gave the packed room a look of wide-eyed cluelessness and launched into his deadpan bit: "I think it's time I had a girlfriend. ... There's just one little problem. None of the girls I know think it's time I had a girlfriend."
"Even some of the girls I don't know yet agree with that," the redhead went on like a teenage Rodney Dangerfield, to cascades of laughter.
With the afternoon crowd of 300 won over, Kurn coasted through his act, touching on the art of adolescent lying and lamenting that parents can use technology to check homework and grades online.
That's the way it goes with "Kids 'N Comedy," a nearly 17-year-old laugh train that gives some budding class clowns, ages 9 to 18, a chance to learn the nuances of comedy without facing a trip to the principal's office.
Nine-week classes and two-week summer camps give children some basic training in comedy club work before a final exam of sorts — a performance before a paying audience of strangers.
The classes originated with Jo Ann Grossman, a Manhattan woman with no training in comedy, and her husband, Stu, who teaches some of the classes. In staging the comedy acts, starting out in 1996, they quickly realized they had to impose limits on kids and their unfiltered funny thoughts.
"We wanted it to be clean," Grossman said.
That ground rule wasn't the hard part for 14-year-old Zach Rosenfeld, who recalled his first class when he was 9 and the sheer terror of trying, and perhaps failing, to be funny.
"I was very nervous," he said. "But after sitting through a couple of those classes, I started to open up more and more. ... The class teaches you to calm down and not be so scared."
Class participants were told to write down funny things in their lives, and refine some of those thoughts into an act.
Rosenfeld says he sat nervously before he went on stage that first time, tapping his foot and trying to remember his lines, only to get before the crowd and forget most of them.
"I could get away with it because I was cute. I was 9," he said. "I was blacking out with part of the routine. I just started talking to the audience, 'I like this table.' They were laughing."
When he walked off stage, he said, he knew he would perform again. And he has.
"When you hear laughter on the stage, it's one of the greatest things on the face of the earth," Rosenfeld said. "You're shining in the stage's light and people like you."
Most recently, Rosenfeld did his act at the Kids 'N Comedy holiday show at the Gotham Comedy Club, dubbed the "Christmakwanzukah" show. He wasn't alone.
Val Bodurtha, 16, pulled out a banjo, singing a song chastising classmates who tout views on social issues and politics. She sang: "You should really learn your facts before you begin to speak" and "stop posting pictures of your meals and gratuitous shots of you." At one point, she said "fricking," the show's closest brush with profanity.
During his act, Graham Janovic, 11, said that while other families bought batteries and soup before Superstorm Sandy, his family stocked up on candy and toilet paper, making him worry that every knock at the door was a cameraman from the "Hoarders" television show.
As comics do, Janovic and others highlighted personal flaws, turning the stage into therapy.
"I'm a recovering dyslexic," he said.
"Don't judge me. I have a disease, a disease of the mind: ADHD," 17-year-old Leo Frampton said, reminding spectators that trouble focusing is common for teens. "People used to say, 'I love textbooks.' Now they say: 'I love exciting and interesting experiences.' ADHD is the new rock 'n' roll."
He said he gets annoyed during holiday breaks when adults repeatedly ask him if he's looking forward to returning to school. He said he'd like to counter: "Hey, it's almost tax season. ... Looking forward to going back to the office?"
The sold-out show — the first at Gotham in the history of Kids 'N Comedy — was a milestone for Grossman and a credit to the classes, which cost $595, and comedy summer camps, which cost $1,045.
Grossman said professionalism results from hard work.
"We try to motivate them to write all the time," she said. "If you want to keep it fresh, you have to keep on writing."
Some youngsters have graduated to bigger things, including 26-year-old actor Josh Peck, who recently appeared in the movie "Red Dawn" after playing Josh Nichols in the Nickelodeon sitcom, "Drake & Josh."
"To see these kids, they're funny, they're really funny," Grossman said. "Nobody's doing knock-knock jokes."