Improv Showcase displays Brandeis’ sense of humor

September 7, 2018

When the first Monday of the academic year ends up on a holiday, seize the opportunity to create an improvisational comedy show. At least, that was the conclusion of Brandeis’ many improv troupes, who performed their first showcase of the year the night of Labor Day.

Intended largely as an introduction/advertisement, the showcase involves all four of Brandeis’ unscripted comedy groups performing a short series of sketches to interest people in coming to their auditions. Almost an unofficial orientation event, this annual tradition often almost feels like a great icebreaker game as much as a comedy performance.

TBA, the first group to perform, started the show off in this vein by inviting an audience member to the stage and interviewing him about everything from his favorite classes to his views on post-colonial foreign policy (undecided). Then, two improvisers used this information to compete for the interviewee’s undying love, incorporating random words shouted from the audience. The match-up ended up as a lopsided decision between a pitch for safe sex and a reluctant pitch for a scat fetish (the result of an unprintable suggestion from a particularly nervous audience member).

The group then moved into a quick-switch game where four performers were given suggestions for each of their possible pairings then had to quickly switch between the wildly different resulting scenes. A highlight was a pair of aging mothers-in-law discussing the intricacies of familial murder suddenly switching into a failing romance and back again with the barest of hesitation. The performance ended with a ménage a trois, where three pairs of performers created scenes following each other and linked by the physical poses of the preceding pair. Two high schoolers plotting an attack on the football team became two candy factory workers arguing became a bemoaned couple trying to save their love in Antarctica, whose unfortunate leaning caused one of the high schoolers to develop a humpback. And so on, the scenes becoming increasingly unhinged as they had to suddenly leap between more and more fantastic positions.

TBA was followed by Crowd Control, a long-form improv troupe, which jumped into the “getting to know each other” theme with “sex with me is like…” While admitting their sex was as infrequent as their interest in curling (once every four years) or a daily ritual as annoying as making toast likely wasn’t comfortable, the sketch cut the air, leading into the next piece of the performance, a series of longer sketches inspired by the troupe members’ past experiences, mainly summer memories. The summers were entertaining by themselves, sharing a surprisingly common theme of being thrust into a customer support role, forced to endure constant complaints, but without the actual authority to solve any problems. These were translated into sketches where a camp director threatened a disobedient camper with sharks, millennial-parody-types responded to a car accident with tweets of action and more off-kilter situations populated with angry customers, impotent customer service, and leaps of logic.

Bad Grammer, which focuses on short form scenes, came next, starting with a unique game where two pairs of performers each locked arms facing away from each other, had the two facing front start a scene (which became a parody of “MasterChef”), then periodically switched, thrusting the other partner into the character their partner had established. This created a hectic scene with two characters whose backstories and accents zigged and zagged into a series of jokes more about one-liners than the story being established. After, they transitioned into a three-person scene constructed around the power dynamics of having a ‘boss,’ a ‘comma’ and a ‘baby.’ This was repeated two times with each character taking on a different role, a theme which was repeated in the next game: types of advice. Four performers were positioned as giving good, bad, high school and robotic advice and took questions from the audience. The performers rotated roles each question, exaggerating the characters each time.

False Advertising, which does musical long-form theater, rounded out the show with two long-form sketches. One was themed around beach mishaps and involved a neglectful model mother, wars over sand castles, a semi-friendly great white shark, and the innocence of many children being ruined. The second, themed around the suggestion “Halftime Crime” became a musical about a wimpy football team scheming to unfairly win a championship game and managed to have both a mostly coherent plot and mostly coherent songs.

The lack of summer rehearsal showed occasionally throughout the night as many of the performers seemed slightly out of sync, but this never hurt the comedy. Everyone on stage was totally comfortable and used the magic of improv to carry through, playing off small mistakes and bringing the audience into the show as the veil of effortless spontaneity was lifted. With a mostly first-year audience, the performance became a wonderfully relaxed evening of laughs and camaraderie.

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