Hardaway High's comedic valedictorian wants to make people laugh

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comJune 9, 2013 

This comedian is a valedictorian. Or this valedictorian is a comedian.

Whichever order you choose, they both describe Alan Giles.

No wonder the 2013 Hardaway High School graduate plans to attend Columbia College Chicago, which offers the nation's only bachelor's degree in theater with a concentration in comedy writing and performance.

And he earned a $44,000 scholarship to help pursue that degree.

So this valedictorian won't try to cure cancer, but he will try to benefit humanity through laughter.

"I think comedy is like the medicine people need in a world filled with -- I don't want to say tragedy -- but bad things, strife, misfortune," Alan said. "Comedy is something that kind of distracts people from everything negative in their lives. It just takes them on a journey and loosens them up. Sometimes, comedy can literally save lives."

Asked for an example, Alan said, "I have a friend who dealt with depression, and his only outlet was comedic performance. He was able to connect with people through making them laugh."

Alan's theater teacher at Hardaway was his mother, Patricia Giles. She said it was a blessing to spend more time together. Then she laughed and added a punch line: "For him, a negative would be embarrassing childhood stories."

Alan's mother told him he would have to work harder than anybody else in her class -- and he wouldn't have had it any other way.

"I decided I was going to prove to myself and my mom and everyone that, if I ever got anything, it was because I worked hard for it," he said. "I never wanted to be handed anything."

Alan's father, Glen, who owns Gorilla Guitars in Columbus, also was a theater major. So it was natural for Alan to grow up attending the Springer Theatre Academy along with his siblings, Kayla, a rising junior at Hardaway, and Evan, a Veterans Memorial Middle School graduate who will attend Hardaway too.

The Springer program helped build Alan's confidence.

"There was something about the feeling I got whenever I was able to make an audience laugh," Alan said. "Then it started trickling into my everyday life."

One of his Hardaway teachers, Patsy Hale, said Alan "oozes funny, but he's never improper. He has great timing, just quick little jabs or conclusions.

"One minute he can see some profound literary, stylistic trait and the next minute make some crazy comment about one of the characters."

Hardaway’s 2013 senior class president, AmberNechole Hart, said fellow students appreciate Alan’s mix of being a serious student and a fun friend.

“He’s extremely motivated and bright, just always ready to take on a challenge,” said AmberNechole, who plans to study international communications as a pre-law track at Oglethorpe University. “Alan’s also pretty hilarious. He’s just always saying these witty things, and everyone is dying laughing. … But his humor is never toward making fun of someone.”

Turning 18 in February made Alan eligible to perform in the No Shame Theatre at the Springer, where adults gather to perform original works or improvisation each Friday night

"Improv literally is making something out of nothing, and that's what makes it so funny," Alan said. "Where does that stuff come from? It just fascinates me."

His goal is to write for "Saturday Night Live" or a TV sitcom, then become one of the actors delivering the lines as well.

"I definitely want writing to be part of what I always do, but performing is what I'm passionate about," he said. "Auditions are so cutthroat, so I feel like, if I can write my way into the industry, so to speak, it would give me more security if I can't land an acting job. I guess it would make me more marketable."

Alan also earned a $2,500 scholarship for winning the 2013 Georgia Optimist Club state oratorical contest. He is the first Muscogee County School District student to achieve that title.

The contest's topic was "Why My Voice is Important." Alan had been reading the Joseph Conrad novel "Heart of Darkness" for school -- "and I wasn't enjoying it particularly" -- but he used a line in the book to form his speech: "I have a voice, too, and for good or evil mine is the speech that cannot be silenced."

Alan concluded in his speech, "If I am given this freedom, this freedom of speech, I should not and cannot let it go to waste."

Another first Alan attained is becoming Hardaway's inaugural homecoming king. The school previously had only a homecoming queen, but the students voted Alan the winner among six finalists, "and I am pretty sure I was the only non-athlete in that group," he said with a laugh.

“If there was an example of someone everyone likes,” AmberNechole said, “it’s Alan.”

In the Hardaway senior class superlatives, Alan was voted Most Likely to Succeed. In the school's International Baccalaureate program superlatives, he was voted Most Likely to be President. He shook his head, however, when asked whether he is interested in going into politics. Then he added with a smile, "I'm interest in making fun of politics."

Alan said his parents support his unusual career choice, despite the risky job security.

"Not to be judgmental about it, but I know some people are not excited about what they're majoring in," he said. "It's not because they love it; they know they can get a degree in it and get a decent job. That's fine. But, for me, I really want to get more out of my job. I want to love it."

Hale has no doubt about Alan's future.

"He's going to make it," she said. "I'm convinced."

And when that happens, Alan hopes to make enough money to donate to his alma mater and renovate Hardaway's auditorium, where he performed in 16 shows.

"Whenever we'd go to one-act competitions or take a show to a smaller theater, people always complimented us on our projection and articulation," he said. "We were like, 'Yeah, that's because we practice in a cave.'"

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