Max Goldberg
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Max Goldberg

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The best kept secret in music

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The joke isn't working, and no one senses it more acutely than Max Goldberg. As he tries to salvage the bit about a sneaky six-story wall of water, he begins to rush the delivery, punctuating his riff with odd squeals.

''It's my first time with this joke," Goldberg finally admits, pausing to consider his next move. ''You know what? I'll just skip it. That's fine because, let's face it, it's too soon. Maybe in February it'll be humorous."

The crowd chuckles. It's not the laugh Goldberg was looking for, but he'll take it. A few minutes later, the curly-haired college student bounds offstage and trades high-fives with his classmates. It's ''Emerson Night" at the Comedy Studio in Harvard Square, and a crew of aspiring comedians from Jay Leno's alma mater are trying out some new material.

A celebrated breeding ground for cutups and quipsters -- Denis Leary, Steven Wright, and Laura Kightlinger all studied there -- Emerson is almost overrun these days by kids hoping to make a career of comedy. There are at least five sketch or improv troupes on campus; comedy-writing classes are over-enrolled; and students interested in stand-up have found a friend in Rick Jenkins, owner of the Comedy Studio.

''In putting these kids on, I'm doing the sort of mentoring I wish I had," says Jenkins,

a former stand-up comedian who opened the club a decade ago. ''It's so unusual to have this many kids who're good. There's always been a lot of talent at Emerson, but there's even more now."

Mike Bent, who's been teaching comedy writing at Emerson for 17 years, says there are now eight or nine students who are serious about stand-up, and remarkably, all of them have original voices.

''None of them are 'doing' stand-up," says Bent, a comedian himself. ''They're not mimicking styles."

The professor's at a loss to explain the heightened interest in comedy, but doubts it has anything to do with money or fame. Bent says his students are aware of Emerson's famously funny alums, but they're not overly impressed.

''They care about the tradition, I think," he says, ''but I don't know if most would admit it. - The Boston Globe


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

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Currently at a loss for words...