“You have to trust your instincts. You have to work together.”
Instructions suitable for any team, these words came from the mouth of Bradley Bazzle ’02, the head of the improvisational comedy group The Viola Question.
Although they specialize in the hilarity of the moment, creating ridiculous situations and jokes on the spot, the VQ rehearses hard every week to keep their skills honed. Every year the group puts on a few on-campus shows, but this semester more student comics will join them than ever before.
The Purple Crayon, Just Add Water, the Ex!t Players and the Fifth Humour join VQ on the list of long-standing comedy groups at Yale. The students in these troupes have dedicated themselves to the art of making people laugh for many years. Because of their efforts, comedy has become a key element of the performing arts scene at Yale. This year, the genre has extended to include a new group as well as stand-up comedy performances by student comics.
This fall Bill Cosby and Al Franken, world-renowned comics, made their Yale debuts. They brought laughs and tried-and-true schtick to campus residents, who gave both performances high accolades. But this year will also see the debut of resident comics, who will take part in the first-ever student run stand-up comedy performance at Yale. Ehren Park ’01, a member of Just Add Water, has gathered about 14 campus humorists who will be performing original stand-up routines.
“Most of these people haven’t ever done stand-up before,” Park said. “Great improv comedians are still nervous about doing stand-up because the audience has a different tolerance for ‘funny’.”
Comedians on Campus, a professional company, gave a preview of this performance in the fall, when a few professional comedians put on a show that included clips of student comics. But Park’s show, which will go up next week, will feature only student work and a comedy club feel, with a band and refreshments.
Also new this semester is an entire sketch comedy performance by a single author. Bradley Bazzle wrote the scenes for “Children First” over the summer.
Bazzle believes his comedy troupe was helpful in the creation of these pieces. “Improv is actually a great way to start writing.”
“Children First” is made up of all-original work by Bazzle and will be performed early next month.
Suite 13, a new group addition to the sketch comedy scene, will also debut this spring. Up until this year, the Fifth Humour was the only sketch comedy troupe on campus. But this spring they will be joined by this new all-freshman group.
“Yale has a parallel tradition of comedy theater to that of televised comedy,” Suite 13 founder David Fabricant ’04 said. “We plan to combine the many aspects of live Yale comedy with humor in other mediums like visual and video styles.”
Comedy on the spot
Right now there are four active improv comedy groups on campus. Each group has its own styles, and each has a devoted following. From the musical to the masochistic, Yale improv comedy is energetic and intelligent.
“All of the groups recognize the integrity of performance,” Bazzle said. “We avoid bodily, cheap humor. We don’t take the easy way out.”
Bazzle’s group, the VQ, has a reputation for being the most outrageous of the groups. Their humor tends to be more scene-based, and a little bit more risky than their improv compatriots.
“Our humor is organic,” Bazzle said, “We go less for jokes and more for scenes. We love the bizarre.”
The Ex!t players are a long-standing Yale tradition in Yale comedy. From year to year, Ex!t can be relied upon to be consistently funny, with a series of games that tend to be the most complicated of any or the groups. Because of the complexity of their games, they often allow for a minute or so of preparation, which subtracts from the improv element of the performance but adds to the total success of a show.
Clad in coveralls, any time Just Add Water takes the stage, it is bound to be a musical experience.
“The way that we use music to underscore our scenes makes us different from the rest of the groups,” JAW head Jordanna Davis ’03 said. “And we’ve had a reputation for intense physicality in the past.”
Campus comedy-goers tend to appreciate JAW for its theatricality. They tend to also go for shorter sketches, which define most of Yale improv comedy.
“What makes us a little different from professional groups like the Groundlings and Upright Citizen’s Brigade is that Yalies tend to go for short form sketches,” Davis said. “A lot of groups think that long-form sketches are the wave of the future.”
The Purple Crayon is a group that has also been around a while, with some graduates writing for television in New York City. They tend to have more off-campus performances, and do comedy workshops for grade-school children.
Sketch. On stage.
Suite 13 joins The Fifth Humour in the smaller sketch comedy arena. The Fifth Humour has been performing original sketches for several years, with two performances per semester. This spring they will incorporate video into their routine, and have recently branched out to include music and dance into their performances.
“Sketch comedy is a completely separate entity from improv comedy,” Fifth Humour President David Valdez said. “The bar is raised, and there are different pressures, but writing and performing from scripts are hugely important comic skills.”
The future of Yale comedy
“I think that there are a lot of really talented comedians at Yale,” Fifth Humour member Katie Marie Zouhary ’03 said. “Many of my peers are incredibly funny, and that encourages me to keep writing and performing.”
Zouhary is among a few of Yale’s comedians who plan on pursuing a career in comedy outside of college. They hope to join the ranks of Ben Stein ’70 and Philip LaMarr ’88 of MADTV — Yale grads who have made it big in the professional world.
“Yale does not prepare you specifically for the professional world,” Cat Davis ’03 of JAW said, “But it does give you a really strong background from which to develop.”
Recent graduates working at getting a start include Micaela Blei ’00, who is teaching improv classes in New York City this year and Stephanie Escajeda ’98, who is working in the stand-up comedy scene of Los Angeles. Blei is a former member of JAW and Escajeda was once an Ex!t player. In New York, Ex!t Players Itimar Moses ’99 and Ryan Chaffee ’99 have created their own improv comedy troupe as well.