Junior Allie Wolfe is studying to be an art therapist. But until a year ago, she had no idea that stand-up comedy would be her own therapeutic outlet. Now she’s one of the top performing comedians in the Four Corners region, and she’s experiencing the very benefits of expressive therapy that she wants to foster for her future clients.
Wolfe, a double major in Art and Psychology, says that her start in stand-up comedy will sound familiar to many comedians: it serves as an outlet for the challenges in her life.
“I got started because I have an anxiety disorder,” she says. “I've been in therapy since I was a kid. I’m fine discussing that, because I think everybody would benefit from therapy. But traditional therapy doesn't work for everybody.”
She carried her anxiety with her to college and continued seeking help on campus. That’s where she found the inspiration to seek an outlet for those issues. “The Counseling Center recommended that I find something I'm passionate about to ease my anxiety,” she says.
Wolfe took the advice wholeheartedly. She always appreciated comedy, even if she never thought she could perform it. So in October 2016, she attended an open mic comedy night in Durango. She decided to confront her anxiety by taking the stage that night – with no prepared material whatsoever.
“I just jumped up, and I loved it,” she says, even though she swears she bombed the set. “It's scary to get up there your first time. But then, I did it. From the first time, I knew this was my thing. This is what I love to do.”
In the months since that first set, Wolfe has embraced performing as a comedian. She’s performed sets at every major venue in Durango. She opened a show for Josh Blue, onetime winner of NBC’s reality show Last Comic Standing. She is touring regionally and performing at festivals, from the Four Corners Comedy Festival in Cortez, Colorado, to the North Texas Comedy Festival. And she’s doing more than performing – she also hosts the very same open mic night where she took the plunge.
“It's cool to be hosting the show that really inspired me to try it,” she says. “I know that doing comedy can be therapeutic, which is why the show is called Laugh Therapy.”
“This is a way to process things that have happened to you,” she adds. “Comedy can make light of situations that seemed impossible to make light of before. It gives you a new perspective on the difficulty of life.”
With so much practice, Wolfe is honing her comedic style, which is often self-deprecating commentary on her own life foibles. “My comedy is not negative or vulgar,” she says. “I'm usually the punch line, because I don't want people to feel unwelcome or unsafe. When it's about me, it's not a reflection on anybody else or my feelings about anybody else.”
It’s no surprise that a future art therapist would put so much emphasis on making her audience feel safe and welcome at her shows. Wolfe understands that making people feel safe is a big part of an art therapist’s job. Only when people feel safe can they begin to care for their mental health, whether that’s through comedy or any other outlet.
In fact, feeling safe and welcome at FLC is a big part of what enabled her to find healing on the comedy stage.
“It is such a sense of community here,” she says. “My professors come to my shows. My work study boss came to my show and said she’d be a regular customer. There’s just so much support here.”
For Wolfe, nothing compares to making her new community laugh.
“There’s a lot that goes into a joke, when you work for days on the wording and the presentation and your hand gestures,” she says. “And when you perform that and get that immediate feedback, it's so gratifying, because of that sense of community. I feel like I found my people.”
Through all this growth, Wolfe still deals with her anxiety disorder. But she says comedy has made her a more resilient person, better equipped to step into a deeper involvement with her collegiate life.
“It’s really helped me to be comfortable in positions of leadership,” she says. “I've been an orientation leader for two years, I'm doing the Impact Experience through the Leadership Center. I’m vice president of the comedy club on campus. And this year, I’m the vice parliamentarian of ASFLC [the FLC student senate].”
This active, engaged, involved Allie Wolfe is a whole new person compared to the Allie Wolfe who arrived at FLC as a freshman. And she is endlessly grateful for her ongoing transformation.
“I never really saw a change in myself until I went out there and started doing comedy,” Wolfe says. “Fort Lewis helped me understand expressive therapies and creativity and its role in psychology, because of my art therapy class and classes like that. That was mind blowing to me, to know that the comedy I'm doing is a form of therapy and can be for others.”
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The Counseling Center at FLC offers students support around issues or stress they may be experiencing. The staff have extensive training in mental health, psychology, and human behavior. They have a broad range of experience in working with students in many different situations. Individual, group and couples counseling are available. Students can schedule an appointment by calling 970-247-7212 or stopping by Room 260, Noble Hall. A 24-hour Crisis Hotline is available at 970-247-5245.