Updated: Sep 3, 2022
By Becky Miller
Picture a 20-year-old Delaney Wellington, BC ’23, sitting at a side-of-the-highway bar in Nashville, waiting for her turn to knock the seasoned, jaded country open-mic comics on their asses. She had never done stand-up comedy before and she was ripping off the Band-Aid; she made her friends wait in the car. After two hours of watching cowboys defensively bomb their sets, her turn came around. Delaney calmly got onstage, cracked a few jokes about her brain tumor, and scored a couple of laughs. She did well compared to the bombing cowboys, but she told me with a warm humility that she remembers her first time doing stand-up going only “okay.”
In high school, Delaney didn’t have many opportunities to explore stand-up or comedy, but she knew she could make people laugh and was vaguely drawn to performing. When she started at Barnard, she didn’t know she was into any of it, and she didn’t know she was good at any of it. “It just slowly morphed into this part of my life,” she told me. Early in her freshman fall, Delaney sat in on some improv rehearsals and joined Memento Mori, Columbia’s stand-up show, and the student sketch comedy group CHOWDAH.
After the initial Nashville push, she began independently doing stand-up in New York over the summer. She would pay $5 to try her material out at open mics and comedy clubs mostly filled with other comics, regulars whose recycled material became familiar as she returned week after week. This open mic scene was composed of bombers and occasional unexpected gems. Sometimes people would suck one week and then kill it the next. Delaney took comfort in seeing that progress, noticing how subtle inflections in tone and rearranged timing could spark a minefield of laughter from an energetic crowd.
At the Hungarian Pastry Shop one summer afternoon, Delaney confided to me that she inevitably found out for herself what it was like to bomb. As she was performing to an audience made up of mostly distracted comics who were just waiting for their turn with the mic, she experienced the bleak rite of passage that is speaking for five minutes and getting zero laughs. Delaney described this experience as “really funny in retrospect.” She’d get on stage, wait for the first laugh, and if it never came, she “short circuited” and just prayed the five-minute light would arrive soon. Sometimes she’d even get a few “aw”s—one of the worst and most hilarious sounds to hear as a stand-up comic, as she understands it.
Delaney’s material is unabashedly personal—that’s where she finds catharsis in her stand-up. In “The Worst News I Got That Day Was Not That I Have a Brain Tumor,” a YouTube video of Delaney’s five-minute set at the Broadway Comedy Club, she dramatizes the story of a traumatic medical event with masterful timing and ample pauses, a cadence she worked out at the open mics. That particular night, the audience roars and contributes, and Delaney feeds off of their input and assistance, letting her story ride alongside their reactions. The brain tumor story can be a crowd killer, she said, but Delaney’s ordinary delivery creates an ironic relief, both for the audience and for herself. She justifies her choice to use this material with ease: “I appreciate a crazy story. So when that happens to me, I’m not like, ‘oh, this craziness sucks.’ I’m like, ‘wow, I can perform this now.’”
Delaney has had two paid gigs, which is a feat for a college student doing stand-up comedy. But her gall and balls do not come without a substantial level of nerves—Delaney told me between laughs that at her last show in January, her Fitbit reported 119 minutes where her heart rate was over 140, meaning she was having a mini panic attack for two hours before going onstage. Unlike the solo shows, CHOWDAH comes as a relaxing alternative. The first CHOWDAH show of the year came a couple of weeks after that gig, a welcome relief after the stressful solitude of a stand-up stage.
In CHOWDAH, Delaney has found a campus community that’s as phenomenally funny as it is wholesome. Coming from a primary interest in stand-up, CHOWDAH expanded the field of comedy for Delaney, and she called writing sketch comedy her “new favorite thing.” She has found her groove with the medium, penning and acting out the characters and scenes that kill at live shows. Delaney dreamt and executed Bear Hug Barbara, an overly handsy seamstress who treats her clerk like a horse, and had the top floor of Lerner shaking with laughter. That same night in February, she was the butt of the Grand Canyon Elmo sketch, an idea CHOWDAH member Daniela Miranda conceived of. She played a Times Square Elmo who hijacks a tour of the Grand Canyon by being a douchebag. At the April show, she couldn’t help breaking during a Last Supper sketch in which she played a moody, sinister Judas.
Delaney can be described, like most Barnard students, as a loving critic, though her judgments usually take the form of humor. She and a friend created the Instagram account @whatisweecha, an examination of the origin and weirdness of the glass double helix statue called “Weecha” that stands outside of Diana. When I asked her if she thought that Barnard College had a funny personality, she confessed that our humor is not obvious—there’s definitely no Barstool Barnard. “No one’s doing flips. I wish …” Delaney admitted. Even so, she remains optimistic about Barnard’s ethos: She maintains that we are funny in a “collected, smart” way.
Delaney notices some hilarity even in her ultra-serious major, Environment and Sustainability. She told me the story of when a professor suggested that a real solution to climate change would be to launch a mirror the size of Greenland into space. All she could imagine was an apocalyptic scenario in which we launch said mirror and it falls back down into the ocean, creating an enormous tsunami and even more waste and pollution.
When she had a moment to spare during her summer researching heat waves, Delaney took to interacting with the environment in a hysterically eclectic way: On the weekends, she went kayaking for free on the Hudson and spent a lot of time birding, which she defines as “going intentionally to look at birds.” She was interviewed by NPR earlier this summer as a witness to the running of the goats in Riverside Park. She spends a lot of time thinking about small dogs who live in New York apartments, and why they look the way they do (“a little dead”). That afternoon at Hungarian, I was lucky to hear her theory: The air conditioning in their small apartments sucks all the moisture out of the small dogs, leaving them to shrivel up.
Delaney’s musings, onstage and off, bring levity to the Barnard sphere. Her style’s signature is in its generosity: She wants to let you in, to share her hustles, to help you get the sketch, to relieve some of her tension and everyone else’s. I left our conversation at Hungarian fulfilled: I had a birdwatching class on my Plan & Schedule and the comforting feeling that even without backflips, Barnard might be a little funnier than I thought.
*Correction (9/3/2022): The Grand Canyon Elmo sketch has been attributed to Daniela Miranda.