Student Spotlight: UI senior uses passion for comedy to introduce others to world of stand-up

Stand-up comedy changed University of Iowa student Joe Marino’s life. The senior currently runs Secret Standup to help others get interested in the act.


Isabella Cervantes

Joe Marino, a student comedian, poses for a portrait in front of Joystick Comedy Arcade on Friday, April 15, 2022.

Olivia Augustine, Arts Reporter

Two years ago, Joe Marino’s biggest fear was to stand up and speak in front of a crowd. Today, he has an undeniable passion for stand-up comedy and an affinity for helping others give it a try as well.

Marino is a senior at the University of Iowa. The creative writing and publishing major said stand-up comedy is his favorite part of life right now.

“Everybody’s had a moment when you say something in high school and it makes the whole class laugh,” he said. “Stand-up is just like that for as long as your set, if it goes well, and it’s just the best feeling ever.”

Marino said participating in stand-up comedy has served as a sort of “exposure therapy” to help alleviate that fears of public speaking and stage fright, which he’d faced for most of his life.

“I just tell myself, ‘I’m gonna get up there and embarrass myself today, and I don’t know how it’s gonna go, but I’m gonna make sure that I have a good time,’” he said. “And then no matter how it goes, it feels less nerve wracking.”

Marino said he was interested in stand-up comedy for years, but only acted on that interest last fall. His first stand-up experience was in a stand-up comedy class taught by UI Lecturer Megan Gogerty.

Since then, Marino has participated in open mic nights on Mondays and Thursdays at Joystick Comedy Arcade, and on Tuesday at Thew Brewing in Cedar Rapids. He’s also attended the mic nights previously held at Willow Creek and traveled to perform in other cities in Iowa, as far as Ankeny and Ames.

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Marino said the comedy community in Iowa City is very tight knit but felt very welcoming as he was getting started.

It’s now a goal for Marino to help other students looking to get into stand-up comedy, he said. He runs a group called Secret Standup that is meant to create a safe space for people just beginning to explore stand-up.

RELATED: Secret Standup comedy show revived through Willow Creek Theatre

Secret Standup has been passed down for years. The group took a hiatus during the pandemic, and Marino recently rebooted the group, which now does two shows a month, one open mic night and one showcase.

After graduation this May, Marino has a job in sales lined up for the fall but plans on simultaneously pursuing a bigger dream — to become a staff writer for a comedy show, where he can implement the kind of comedic writing he enjoys, like satire, short stories, comedic pieces of fiction, and television scripts.

Marino said he will spend the summer in his hometown of Park Ridge, IL, doing as much stand-up as he can. Once he begins work, he’ll continue to do stand-up in his free time while also working on scripts to submit TV shows.

“It’s so terrifying, but also exciting to see if something you’ve put work into is going to work,” Marino said. “Then you get to revise it and that’s like a lot of hard work, and that’s like really rewarding.”