Quip Pro Quo-- Law professor performs stand-up comedy routines

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Cynthia Ward, a law professor at Cooley Law School in Lansing, is used to standing before a class of students. She's used to standing before a judge in a courtroom.

And she's used to standing before an audience and firing off comic quips.

Last month, Ward was one of four comediennes performing in "She Laughs," an annual comedy fund-raising event for the Women's Center of Greater Lansing.

"I was invited to do 'She Laughs IV,' but I wasn't prepared and felt insecure about my material," Ward says. "When I was invited to do 'She Laughs V,' I knew if I said no that I might not be asked again. So, I said yes and had a great time. And, 'She Laughs VI' was fun too.

"My friends are great to come out and support me. It's a nice way to support a great cause."

Comedy was something that always appealed to Ward--although she's not quite sure why.

"I was never a class clown. I'm never the life of a party and I don't try to make people laugh in my day-to-day life. I'm generally no-nonsense," she says. "But, I'm a happy person and I always smile.

"In 2006, I married my husband, Greg, who is extremely gregarious and funny. I laughed so much my first year of marriage that I just started writing stuff down. I still laugh today--almost five years later."

Her husband bought her a journal book to keep written material in one place, and five books about how to do stand-up comedy, including a book that taught her about the comedic "set-up" and the "punch."

Ward writes and dates her material in her journal book, to protect her interests.

"A few people have told me my material is funny enough that it may be 'borrowed' without my knowledge or consent," she says.

Ward's husband often provides ideas for her routines--as well as serving as the occasional target of her humor.

"Sometimes we disagree about what's funny," she says. "Not everything I write about ends up in my performance. Some things are funny after it happens, but not so funny when you try to tell about it.

"For example, I have a funny story about my reaction to my husband becoming very ill during a trip to Las Vegas. My husband and I laugh every time we talk about it. I've not figured out a way to deliver it in a performance. I tried once, but it didn't work because it's hard for people to laugh when you begin with 'my husband was so sick during a trip to Las Vegas that I thought he was going to die.'"

While Ward used to share all her material with her husband, now she likes him to be surprised during her performance so she shares less with him.

"Also, my husband is mentioned a lot in my material--he's a super good sport," she says.

In 2008, Ward entered a 5-minute routine in a stand-up comics' competition in Hawaii and won.

The club owner asked if she would be in Hawaii a few more days and would perform for a weekend show.

"She said my material was fresh and she liked that I was a female. I couldn't perform because I was leaving the next day, but I was flattered."

Ward is a fan of all types of comedy, and particularly enjoys the routines of Emmy award winning actress and stand-up comic Kathy Griffin.

"And each year, my husband and I look forward to watching the White House Correspondents' Dinner as we greatly appreciate political humor."

Ward, who joined the faculty at Cooley in 2002, was named Assistant Dean of Students in September 2007. She teaches and supervises law students in the externship program, teaches an elective, "Cultural Competency in the Legal Profession," and has supervised Cooley students at the Open Door Ministry of Downtown Lansing, offering pro bono legal services to clients of the community center.

"I love Cooley's commitment to the communities in which we have campuses," she says. "I love Cooley's diverse student population. By training I'm a clinical teacher and I supervise students in our externship program, so I see students who are very close to graduation.

"I love that moment when students realize for themselves that they have what it takes to be a darn good attorney."

A Philadelphia native who moved to southern New Jersey in her teens, Ward earned her bachelor's degree from Rutgers University and her law degree from Villanova University School of Law.

"I remember at a very young age declaring that I wanted to be a lawyer," she says. "I didn't have any attorneys in my family; I knew no attorneys; and I didn't have any experiences with attorneys. Yet, I knew at a young age I wanted to be an attorney.

"I now know as an adult that this career path was already determined for me by something larger than me. I was supposed to be an attorney so that I can do the type of public interest work that is meaningful."

Ward, who served as a law clerk with American Baptist Churches, Inc., was a staff attorney with New Jersey Protection and Advocacy, Inc., where her work allowed her to represent people with all types of disabilities.

"I represented several people living with HIV," she says. "I found their stories interesting, the area of law emerging, and the discrimination and stigma they faced disturbing."

She served as Associate Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Women and AIDS Clinic at Rutgers Law School-Newark, where she provided civil legal services to women and children affected/infected by HIV/AIDS. She has received several awards and honors for her work as an advocate for women with HIV, made numerous presentations on AIDS and other topics, and previously served on the board of the Lansing Area AIDS Network.

Active in the Lansing community, she also previously served on the City of Lansing Parks Board, and currently serves on the Lansing Board of Water & Light's governing Board of Commissioners.

A Fellow of the Michigan State Bar Foundation, she serves on State Bar of Michigan's District Character and Fitness Committees. She has been published in the Howard Law Journal and has written several shorter works--all a far cry from her comedy material.

Ward separates her comic and Cooley lives.

"I always chuckle to myself when people say 'Cynthia, tell me something funny.' It doesn't work that way for me--maybe because I'm an amateur. Also, if I'm not on stage the delivery won't be the same because the person will see me as no-nonsense Cynthia--rather than stand-up comic Cynthia. The package means something.

"It's such a great feeling to get that first laugh during a performance. I also like that people see a different side of me. One colleague told me he likes that I do stand-up comedy because it makes me more dimensional."

Published: Tue, Feb 8, 2011