Folklore has it that someone once asked Albert Einstein how to make one’s children smarter.
He replied, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
Einstein’s emphasis on reading has guided teacher and comedian Stu Hollowell in all his life endeavors, including his recent marriage of comedy and literacy for a new Denton nonprofit, Language of Laughter. The group aims to use proceeds from local comedy shows to fund a bilingual classroom library at Newton Rayzor Elementary School.
“Bilingual students struggle the most in terms of education,” LOL educational strategies director Alyssa Gray said. “They have a hard time reading, and they have a hard time accessing books that they can read because their parents only speak one language and don’t have the ability to get those books.”
The idea for the organization came to co-founders Hollowell and Shane Silagi after they spent time performing multiple charity standup shows around the area.
“Eventually, Shane and I decided that we were doing this enough so we need to find something we’re passionate about and start raising money for our own thing,” Hollowell said. “The last two months have been mountains and mountains of paperwork but we’re now a Texas-certified nonprofit organization.”
As they prepare for their shows tonight at J&J’s Pizza, Hollowell and Silagi have wrangled local comedians to perform and hope to raise at least $400 for a library that will go to teacher Martha Arriaga at Newton Rayzor.
Statistics from the Alliance for Excellent Education show that nearly 11 percent of the national student population is made up of English language learners. In Denton, most of those children speak Spanish as their first language. Of English language learners, 71 percent have a below-average reading level.
While working with Communities in Schools of North Texas, Gray and Hollowell saw the problem firsthand.
“Going into this job, I realize just how much these kids struggle,” Gray said. “My third-graders read on a first-grade level and they’re going to have to take the STAAR test this year. They aren’t going to have somebody sitting there to read to them.”
Those involved with LOL hope the bilingual books will not only help improve reading levels, but also bring parents and children together.
“We want to do the bilingual books so parents can engage with their kids even if they come from a monolingual background,” Hollowell said. “They have the text on both pages so parents can read along. It’s accidentally awesome in lots of ways I didn’t expect.”
On the surface, it may seem like education and comedy are on different spectrums, but Hollowell finds some similarities.
“Working with kids, I’ve realized that doing comedy in front of inebriated adults is not unlike trying to talk to hormonal teenagers or little kids,” said Hollowell, who has been described as a Jerry Seinfeld-esque comedian. “It’s really similar trying to get their attention and communicate ideas.”
The organization has its sights set on expanding to the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area and performing more shows, even tossing around the idea of a children’s comedy showcase. The main goal, though, will always be to bolster a love of reading in schools, Hollowell said.
“Whether they know it or not, everyone loves stories. We communicate in stories. We’ve been telling stories since we were living in caves,” he said. “Whether kids know it or not, they enjoy them as well. It’s just showing them that they can be enjoyable, and not only that, they can improve their lives by reading stories.”
CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6878 and via Twitter at @CjonesDRC.
IF YOU GO
What: Language of Laughter Shamrock Showcase Comedy Show
When: 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. today
Where: In the basement at J&J’s Pizza, 118 W. Oak St.
How much: Admission is $7. Advance tickets are available at www.lolforacause.com/shows. Proceeds will help fund a bilingual classroom library at Newton Rayzor Elementary School.