A young man with big-rimmed glasses, a beard and a naked baby doll told puns from center stage as the audience’s laughter grew.
Fourth-year linguistics student Landen Baldwin said he tries to be lighthearted during any situation. He has pursued acting since the age of 7. However, it wasn’t until he played the Mad Hatter in a play as a freshman in high school that his career in comedic acting took off, he said. It was the first time he was encouraged to be funny.
Since arriving at UCLA, Baldwin has been a team leader in the comedy group Rapid Fire Improv and has written and acted for Spring Sing’s Company comedy sketches, including this year’s “The 52nd Imperfection.” Baldwin also held several roles as actor and casting director in plays and musicals such as “The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Almost, Maine” and “Rent” through HOOLIGAN Theatre Company. He will work as a performer in LEGOLAND Hotel after graduation.
“HOOLIGAN was my first family on campus,” Baldwin said.
During fall 2015, Baldwin acted in the musical “Rent” as Mark Cohen, a character who has to move on while his friends are dying. Baldwin said that his role served to provide a feeling of catharsis for the audience. The role exemplifies Baldwin’s favorite kinds of roles to act: comedic characters that have real problems, struggles and opinions that the audience can relate to.
“Comedy is always in season for me,” Baldwin said. “There will never be a time when I’ll say I’m done with comedy.”
Aside from acting and cast directing, Baldwin also works on the HOOLIGAN Education staff. He writes and teaches educational theater workshops at middle schools, high schools and on campus.
“My entire theater career before college was focused on theatrical education,” Baldwin said. “I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for giving children access to theater learning.”
He said teaching these workshops has helped him analyze his own performance skills.
Baldwin’s roommate for three years, fourth-year mathematics student Aaron Fish, took part in their first HOOLIGAN show together.
A current managing director of HOOLIGAN, Fish said he admires the amount of hard work and dedication Baldwin puts into his creative projects.
“We’ve been in nine to 12 shows together,” Fish said. “We got attached to the characters and became very close friends.”
Fish said his and Baldwin’s shared sense of humor leads to plenty of back-and-forth puns and jokes.
“We go on and on and are just having a blast while the people around us are slowly complaining about how terrible the puns are,” Fish said.
Through his experiences, Baldwin said he realized that presenting comedy is about fine-tuning what he finds funny, and how to best connect to and entertain his audience.
“Things will not be funny sometimes. You will hit a roadblock,” Baldwin said. “It’s important to not hold onto those things, and think about how I can change, how I can adapt.”
Baldwin said creating a connection with the audience is the most important part of performing.
“Jokes get applause and truths get laughter,” Baldwin said. “I will always want to bridge the gap between the audience and me.”
Alongside being an actor and director in HOOLIGAN Theatre Company, Baldwin took his acting energy to the UCLA comedy club Rapid Fire Improv during his first year and became the team captain two years later.
Marie Osterman, a first-year theater student, said Baldwin has served as both a helpful mentor and an accepting friend during their work together in Rapid Fire Improv.
“He is like our weird, gruffy, joyful dad,” Osterman said. “I learn from him by watching him on stage and from him encouraging us in making distinct choices about characters.”
After graduation, Baldwin said he will perform at LEGOLAND Hotel in San Diego, a job he heard about from a friend. Baldwin will continue his passion for comedic improvisation as a pirate character in a medieval theme setting and entertain kids who are visiting the hotel. He said the job brings him back to his initial passion for working with kids.
Comedy will never stop for Baldwin. “You carve out a place, make a niche for yourself,” he said. “Audience laughter is a thrill I’ll never be able to get over.”