Student Spotlight: Iowa City’s very own ‘Funny Girl’

Comedian and singer/songwriter Clara Reynen is a triple-threat.


Alyson Kuennen

UI junior Clara Reynen poses for a portrait at the Theatre Building on Wednesday, March 6, 2019. Reynen writes her own folk music and performs on stage when not doing stand-up comedy.

Philip Runia, Arts Reporter

What to do when the world laughs at you? Laugh with it.

Twirling a strand of her hair into a pseudo-mustache across her top lip, UI junior Clara Reynen pondered her approach to her vocation. For her, comedy and music are ways of life, each making stakes in her outlook and career choices.

Growing through typical teenage turmoil, she channeled the bullying aimed toward her into songwriting and comedy. After being told countless times to shut up because she wasn’t funny, she found that her humor came out in writing songs. Her songs often became joking stories about her life, so she chose to take them to the stage. Reynen packs her collected wit and commentary of life in the back of her mind and an assortment of notebooks and voice memos, then releases it in a flavor of self-deprecating humor or song.

“I’ve been laughed at my whole life, but now I can control when they’re laughing,” Reynen said.

Her jokes focus on herself, an approach she’s found to be the best path to connecting with the audience and expressing herself. The 21-year-old’s first successful comedy experience was at Secret Standup, a small event that she now hosts. Her jokes consisted of a torn ACL and high-school missteps, which resonated with the audience. Comedians can receive criticism for their jokes if they target and direct them toward the audience, but she refuses that approach, opting for a loop of connection.

“If you want people to laugh and enjoy their time, why would you make fun of the crowd — that just isolates them,” Reynen said. “Instead, make fun of yourself; then they can laugh at themselves through my experience or just laugh at me, that’s fine.”

Reynen performed at the at the Floodwater Comedy Festival on March 2.

Telling stories is worth more than just laughs to Reynen — it helps her work through her thoughts and emotions in her songwriting. It’s her process to unwind before bed and relax. Folk defines her musical genre with the utmost importance of connecting with herself and a community.

Similar to her approach to comedy, the theater major aims to reach out to her audience with her voice. There isn’t a spot on the wall for her to visually bore through. Instead, she makes eye contact to share an emotional connection with her audience.

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“The core of my love for performing is that I hope it’s transactional,” she said. “I get a joy from sharing. I want the audience to feel like they’re getting something out of it, and not that they just have to stare at me.”

Staring isn’t half bad, however. Deft finger movements from Reynen draw attention to her guitar or piano, whichever she turns to. The instruments add to her storytelling, working as a bridge between her soul-baring lyrics and the audience. Simultaneously, her instruments provide a barrier, a semblance of separation to prevent what would be an awkward conversation without music.

“You can sit, and have a conversation, and not be comfortable sharing your life story,” she said. “Once you put it into song format, it’s easier to share that story.”

She is attempting to write a story that incorporates comedy, music, and life’s true grit. She compares this process to cooking: You should incorporate different things to make a well-rounded product, even if you have to redo it several times to get what you want, she said.

Even if it turns out horribly, she plans to keep trying to incorporate her musicianship and comedy into her musical. She doesn’t plan to abandon either practice and will pursue comedy as a career and music as a meditative home base, she said.

“When I die alone in my small single apartment, my neighbor who discovers me a week after I’ve died will probably find mountains of songs I’ve written,” Reynen said and chuckled.

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