If you are anything like me, then you have probably seen a flier for at least one of the improv shows on campus before. You probably thought it looked interesting or maybe you might have thought it looked kind of stupid and wanted nothing to do with it. I’m ashamed to admit it, but for a long time, I used to be one of the latter. I used to think that improv comedy was a very jarring and nonsensical waste of time and energy. An entire comedy special with no script and no plan at all? Where the cast just stands on stage and tries to make jokes out of words the audience screams at them? Why would any actor force themselves to go through with this, and why would people come and watch it? For years, I was convinced that improv was nothing but a low-effort imitation of comedy and entertainment, even though I had never actually been to an improv show before.
You can imagine my surprise when this past Friday, I was required to attend Improvable Cause’s premiere show with some coworkers of mine as part of a work function. If I had a choice, then I would have certainly picked something else for us to do that night. However, the idea had been very passionately recommended by a coworker, and I’m not one to trample on someone’s spirit, so I agreed to go with her. As I entered Burgess Theater with my coworker, I had no idea what I was supposed to be expecting. Something decent? Something awful? Something in between? I couldn’t be sure. My coworker and I found some seats and then waited for the show to begin. Little did I know, I was about to experience one of the coolest live shows I have ever seen.
Suddenly, the cast could be heard outside the theater, shouting some heated words of encouragement at each other and using some rather salty language to do so. A moment later, they all raced through the doors, screaming and swearing, and ran to the front stage, followed by some generous applause as a welcome. The cast began to introduce themselves through gags and role-play. At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of their comedy. The jokes they were making on the fly were definitely more creative than I first gave them credit for, but they were also very ridiculous and over the top. It was honestly a bit overwhelming at first how nonsensical and silly the humor was, especially since if I saw gags like this in any other entertainment I would probably feel some sort of secondhand embarrassment. But then, something weird happened. A couple of the jokes made me laugh a little, and a few afterwards got me laughing even more. Suddenly, I found myself to be one of the loudest cheerers in the audience as I impatiently waited in my seat to see what crazy shenanigans these crazy kids would get into on stage next.
My assumption that improv was low-effort comedy quickly began to fall apart as I watched these performers engage with their craft. The cast had a lot of good chemistry and played off each other well, and a lot of them had sharp tongues on stage. This worked well when they started to do an exercise called lineup, where all the actors would line up onstage and make sudden rapid-fire jokes in response to a setting or prompt that was shouted by the audience. If some of the cast wasn’t as flight footed with their comedy, then they made up for it by providing a ton of energy and zest to some of the longer sketches, especially during a lively Shakira impression. The cast was very well rounded, and this was even before they had held auditions for the cast this season and there were only five of them on stage. It will be curious how the group dynamics will change after they have completed auditions and added some new faces to the mix.
As you might have guessed, there was also a lot of audience participation. The actors constantly asked people in the seats for ideas, from popular figures they could do impressions of to places that would serve as the setting of a new sketch. I found myself eagerly shouting out ideas along with the rest of the crowd, excited to see what the actors on stage would roll with. I just wish they had gone with my suggestion and done an impression of Mickey Mouse.
These suggestions led to one of the best gags of the night when two guys on stage were prompted to do a Queen Elizabeth impression. It was only a matter of time before someone called out a political figure to be impersonated, and given the recent news of the Queen’s death, it was only inevitable that it was brought up in some manner. We were all interested to see how they were going to handle this one. One of the actors proceeded to don an English accent and intonate their voice like an elderly woman, sounding surprisingly accurate to the real person. However, they were quickly interrupted by their costar on stage, who promptly flopped over on the floor and began to play dead. It was one of the most drastic left turns the segment could have taken, and possibly the most below-the-belt joke of the night, but my god it was hilarious. The crowd was booming with laughter, and all of the other actors off stage were struggling to stay upright at the sight of their peer. Not even the other actor on stage could keep a straight face.
The night came to an end faster than I thought it would, mostly just because we were all having such a blast in that theater. Eventually, though, it came time for the cast to bid the audience adieu. They thanked us for our participation and we thanked them with a long-winded round of applause. We were even given a special treat in the form of free stickers to take home with us. The crowd roared with cheer when they heard this and all rushed to the stage. I didn't know stickers were so popular at Furman, but there everyone was, screaming like little kids and tumbling over each other to get a sticker.
It was certainly a night to remember. I had a lot of reservations at the start and was honestly partially convinced that I would hate this improv show. In just an hour though, our dedicated troupe changed my mind and showed me the skill and teamwork that can go into improvised comedy. I was eager to learn more, so I asked the current president of the improv club, Lana Aga, what she feels goes into her group’s performance. She said that for her, improv is a good balance of fun and also commitment, and the tight-knit family she forms with her fellow performers is one of the things that is most important for comedy. That level of commitment and care could be felt throughout the entire show Friday, and their energy was infectious to the rest of the audience. We were all having the time of our lives and are now without a doubt excited to see when Improvable Cause will be performing again.