Laughter: Connecting comedy and improv

Anupama Cemballi

Improv Team Skits from El Estoque on Vimeo.

Junior Maddie Klein pantomimes picking up a crossbow and takes aim at two frolicking squirrels. In a husky Southern drawl she growls: “It’s huntin’ season!”

Then she fires.

The figures that fumble in terror are not, however, small woodland creatures — rather, they are sophomore Andria Pappas and senior Kate Mulligan. Along with Klein, all three girls are members of the improv team.

The improv team is designed to encourage more participation in the theater arts. Members learn to collaborate with their peers and think on their feet to create and perform scenes on-the-fly. According to Mulligan, one of the co-captains, comedy is one of the team’s major focuses, although it is not strictly necessary for successful improv.

“It’s kind of a natural human instinct to want to find the humor in life, and I guess that’s something we try to bring out by using all these random crazy scenarios,” Mulligan said. “People like to come to see funny stuff, so we focus on that more. But there’s definitely other types of improv that we’re not focusing on as much.”

While improv and comedy need not overlap, however, both require performers to be at ease and natural when presenting. In improv especially, a relaxed and flexible mindset is required so that actors can adapt to the events unfolding on stage. The squirrel-hunter scene between Klein, Pappas and Mulligan, for example, was able to play out smoothly because all three reacted to what their fellow actors were saying.

“If you’re not natural, you can’t be really be funny during improv, because such a large part of it is being able to go with the flow and taking what other people say and just making it into a scene,” Mulligan said.

It’s this easy fluidity that the improv team strives to instill in its members, according to co-captain junior Mikey Goldman.

“Don’t say no to someone. If they say, ‘Hey, we’re on the moon,’ you can’t go, ‘No we’re not,’ because that just kills everyone’s mood,” he said. “You bounce off each other on the stage — which makes it so much more fun, because you get to connect with everyone that you’re with.”

In fact, said Goldman, the banter between actors can be the best part of a performance, especially because all of it is generated on the spot. There are no restrictions on the dialogue; even sensitive topics like gun control can, within reason, be made relevant.

As such, Goldman believes that any references to pop culture or current events are especially amusing, due to the impromptu nature of the dialogue.

“You can say something about ‘Community,’ or ‘Parks and Rec’ or something, or ‘Glee’ — and people understand what you’re saying,” Goldman said. “There’s a good mix between general jokes and references, and I think that makes people a lot more responsive … It’s just the spontaneity of [improv] that makes everyone so happy about it.”