Not your typical non-trad

Will Smith is the latest student to be featured in this non-traditional student spotlight. He’s a senior Communications major with a focus on film and video production. He’s also a stand-up comedian and plans to attend graduate school.

Aurora: Can you tell me about yourself in your own words?

Will: I’m a former slacker who decided to change his life in his 40s and do all the things he wanted to do in his 20s.

Aurora: When did you graduate high school?

Will: I graduated in 1999.

Aurora: Was a higher education something you considered after you graduated?

Will: It was, and I actually went for a year until I failed out miserably.

Aurora: Were there other options bedsides college?

Will: Honestly, joining the circus. You know, running around doing stupid stuff like riding the rails and seeing where life took me. But I never got that far because I thought, Ah, I might get hurt and stuff. I was pretty aimless after high school. And during high school. Actually, for most of my life.

Aurora: What changed between now and after high school that made you want to go back to school?

Will: I worked in a financial institution for about 10 years, and then COVID hit. So, I said I don’t want to do this anymore, I want to escape this and go find something new. I finally got my stuff together!

Aurora: What do you think are the benefits of waiting to go to college?

Will: I could actually afford it. At this point I had some money saved so I just said screw it let’s go.

Aurora: What does a college degree mean to you?

Will: That I can set a goal and achieve it. Yeah, sure, there’s the added benefit of getting in a field that I wanna work in, but a lot of it is showing people that I have patience.

Aurora: What kind of challenges have you faced as a non-traditional student?

Will: Trying to deal with other people’s time schedules. I’m an early riser and nothing gets done on a campus at 8:30 in the morning when I’d rather be up and meeting people. I also think people take for granted that I live off campus, so it’s not easy for me like it is for others to even, like, meet up somewhere for a cup of coffee. So, it’s really hard for me to build that sense of community and network because I don’t have that kind of closeness to others.

Aurora: What advice would you give to traditional students?

Will: Pay attention! Not just in class but to life itself. Absorb what’s happening right now because in a matter of years it’s going to be gone. You’re gonna look back and realize these are all fleeting moments. You’re a lucky person so don’t take that for granted!

Aurora: What advice would you give to anyone considering going back to school?

Will: Just do it! Come up with your game plan. Life’s short. You never know what’s going to happen.

Aurora: What made you decide to break into comedy?

Will: I was doing comedy way before school, but I was working that job still and felt really unfulfilled. I needed something creative to put my energy into. I was listening to some podcasts that some friends had suggested that talked about how to get into stand-up comedy, and I was like, all right, I can do that, that sounds easy. I mean it’s not, there’s a lot more to it, but it sounded more romantic when I was listening to it.

Aurora: What’s it like doing comedy in Vermont?

Will: Well there’s only two scenes in Vermont: Burlington, and then everywhere else. I’ve performed all across the country and Vermont can be weird. It’s more of what’s called an alternative comedy scene, and I’m more of a standard, typical stand-up comedian. I try to keep the same ideas and themes running through my stuff compared to other comedians I know of in Vermont. I’m more of a traditionalist if that makes sense? There’s a lot of variety and niche groups which is good, but I don’t always fit in.

Aurora: Has there been a highlight of your comedy career?

Will:  A couple of years ago I got to perform in New York City, which was a highlight because that was like, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. I still don’t know if I’ve actually made it, but gosh darn it I did it anyway!

Aurora: Have you ever bombed on stage?

Will: When haven’t I? There’s so much bombing. There was one case in particular I was performing in Burlington and I was heading up with another comic who was also gonna go on, and I was like, ‘I’m gonna try a whole bunch of new stuff tonight.’ During the set the audience was completely silent except for my other comedian friend and he was just laughing his ass off in the quiet room. And it was one of those moments where I was like ‘well if no one’s gonna laugh, I’m just gonna double down and keep making this worse.’

Aurora: What advice would you give to any aspiring comedians?

Will: Do it if it makes you happy, because when you start out it’s going to be terrible. You’re going to be terrible, I’d say for a solid two years if you’re really dedicated, but that’s the point. That’s the idea. You need to learn the craft, you need to learn the rules. Don’t expect to get rich and famous. The pay is bad. And then, when you do get good and well known in Vermont, the minute you leave those borders you’re going to have to start all over again. So, if you want to do it, keep doing it. If you don’t, stop and get out of the way.

Aurora: Where could someone come watch a set?

Will: On Oct. 20 in Middlebury (at the Marquis Theatre) I do a show called the Movie Roast where me, Pierre Vachon, and Hickory the Drunk and Underwhelming roast movies live while they’re playing. It’s not a typical stand-up show, lots of inside jokes and the audience fires quips too, but I really like it.

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