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Standup economist mines money woes for laughs

By Josh Levs, CNN


NEW YORK (CNN) -- It's not the kind of comedy you hear every day. But it had a crowd at Caroline's - one of the most esteemed comedy clubs in the country - in hysterics.

"You might be an economist if you're an expert on money and you dress like a flood victim," says the tall comedian wearing glasses and a long blue button-down hanging untucked over his jeans.

yoram_bauman.03.jpg
Yoram Bauman.

"If you refuse to sell your children because you think they might be worth more later, you might be an economist."

Uproarious laughter.

On this night, some of New York City's economists have packed into the joint. And Yoram Bauman, PhD is a hit.

"My dad told me, 'Yoram, you can't be a standup economist. There's no demand," Bauman adds, beaming as he soaks up the cheers. "I am killing!"

The truth hurts

Welcome to the world of the self-declared "first and only standup economist."

Through bookings at economics conventions and videos on YouTube - including that appearance at Caroline's in 2007 -- Bauman, 36, has built up a following around the country. And judging by his latest booking this month at a convention of more than 8,000 economists in Atlanta, his unique profile is growing quickly.

We met up with Bauman to talk about his efforts to blend the two unlikely worlds.

CNN: So how did you start doing this? Where did it come from?

Yoram Bauman, Standup Economist: When I was in graduate school I wrote a parody of an economics textbook, and then I started performing it live and one thing just led to another, and it just sort of developed.

CNN: So you have a PhD, but you're also a standup comedian.

Bauman: My dad's not happy about it either.

CNN: Are economists difficult to make laugh? You'd think stereotypically they're pretty serious people.

Bauman: Yeah it takes some of them a little bit to loosen up. And it's hard sometimes, because they don't drink a whole lot necessarily. So that's another disadvantage. But you try, and because they don't get so many opportunities to laugh, I think it's easier to make them laugh once you try.

What you really need in order to do good humor is have a stereotype that you can mine, and there are really strong stereotypes about economists being money-grubbing, and that works really well for comedy.

CNN: But this is a really limited crowd for you. There aren't that many opportunities to go to gatherings of economists.

Bauman: There are a bunch of colleges. I also do corporate events and businesses.

CNN: Is it a living?

Bauman: It's becoming so. It's a significant minority of my income right now. I teach part-time at the University of Washington in environmental studies, I teach part-time at Lakeside High School in Seattle... I do some consulting and writing. Somehow I put them all together.

CNN: You also do comedy about the economy for the rest of us. Are you taking economic concepts and bringing them to the masses, through the power of humor?

Bauman: Yes - because you remember jokes a lot longer than you remember diagrams, equations and lectures.

CNN: All comics have something that they do when a joke falls flat, when something bombs. What do you do?

Bauman: I just keep throwing stuff out there, and eventually you're going to find something that sticks. It's kind of like what the Treasury Department has been doing the last year and a half.

The other thing is, look, I teach economics - so my expectations are really low. I'm used to failure! I teach economics at 8 o'clock in the morning. If I do comedy and half the audience is still awake at the end, I'm like, "Yeah! I killed 'em!" To top of page

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