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Humorist returns to stage of her youth

Comedy show benefits science lab renovation

By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

3:57 PM EDT, September 9, 2012

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In her senior year at the Catholic High School of Baltimore, Michele "Wojo" Wojciechowski performed her first stand-up comedy routine. She wrote the jokes and found she liked delivering them to a crowd.

"I love making people laugh," she said. "Writing humor has become part of who I am."

She will take to the same stage Sept. 15, more than 26 years after her comic debut, in a benefit performance for her alma mater. She and Mickey Cucchiella, a well-known 98 Rock personality, have put together "Wojo and Mickey: Heaven Help Us Night of Comedy."

Their comedic chemistry will help upgrade science instruction at the all-girls school, which opened on the city's eastside in 1939. Show proceeds will assist in rebuilding the chemistry lab and adding a spacious science prep room for teachers.

"We have space for the room, tucked away on the third floor," said Barbara Nazelroad, the school's president and also an alumna. "It will mean much to our science teachers who now must carry their experiments on carts."

That room will be dedicated to the two performers' mothers. M. Beverly Brooks Hanan, Wojo's mother, graduated in 1960, when Catholic High students still wore the signature green dress uniform. Sandra Forte, Cucchiella's mother, was a member of the Class of 1967.

Plaid skirts and white oxford shirts have long replaced the original uniforms and only a few sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia are among today's predominantly lay faculty. The cafeteria has undergone a $400,000 makeover and is now a gracious dining hall, air-conditioned with cushioned seats and microwaves.

But years of change have not diminished the school's motto, Wojciechowski said. "Let Your Light Shine" still resonates with its daughters.

"My mother always taught me to help other people," she said. "It's ingrained. Helping this school was just a natural."

The renovations to the third-floor lab will mean the latest equipment, shelving and storage space. But that shower head suspended from the ceiling that Wojo joked about in 1986 will stay, providing fodder for her 2012 skit.

"Sister used to tell us it was just there in case our hair caught on fire," she said, recalling the 1980s poofy, feathered do's.

She may even retell a few of those vintage gags and will definitely open with a jab at her 13-letter surname. The multi-syllabic moniker inspired her first heckler, a classmate and friend.

"I can still hear 'spell it' coming from the balcony," she said. "I just answered there was not enough time."

That friend already has a ticket to the benefit and may repeat her barb, Wojo said.

The writer and entertainer has been married since 1995, but has kept her maiden name. "I learned to spell it in kindergarten and I am taking it to the grave," she said.

Years of writing pieces for national magazines, such as Family Circle, and penning Wojo's World columns for area weeklies, gave her the impetus to tackle a book of humor.

"Everybody's life has funny times," she said. "It all depends on how observant you are."

The night of comedy will also mark the launch of her book, "Next Time I Move They Will Carry Me Out in a Box," a title scripted to give away the plot.

"A book should be launched someplace that means something to you," she said. "I wrote my first humor essays here. Catholic High had an effect on me and is part of who I am today. Performing here brings everything full circle."

Nazelroad said she was delighted with the offer.

"It is a wonderful opportunity to raise funds and showcase Michele," she said. "Everywhere she goes, she brings Catholic High with her."

The school, with an enrollment of nearly 300 students, has secured a $35,000 challenge match grant from the France-Merrick Foundation for the renovations..

"When Michele offered us a night of comedy, we had another way to match the grant," Nazelroad said.

Wojciechowski said she will be "perfectly at home" on the high school stage and has promised the audience homespun wit, a bit of improv and a glimpse into her dream home. She won't drag out that old uniform, but, instead, will appear in her trademark jeans, purple T-shirt and sparkly sneakers. She still has the fluffly curls and the energy to set her audience on fire with laughter.

Tickets, available at the door, are $20 for the 8 p.m. show at the school, 2800 Edison Highway. Information: 410-732-6200.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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