It’s September again at Yale, the sky is blue (sometimes), the trees have leaves, and the air is thick with the smell of competition. At this time of year, Yale breeds unique vocabulary: “rush,” “tap” and “pledge” are not dance moves or military maneuvers, but specialized sounds that inspire high heart rates in even the most jaded Yalie.
At a place where talent is the norm, it’s no wonder that success is expected, and rejection is bitter. After all, the success stories are visible everywhere — in the singing groups, theater and improv — but the failed attempts are more difficult to find.
This may be, in part, because Yale also has a long tradition of a special breed of the “untapped” — rejects who revolt, refusing to fade quietly into the background. Sometimes these are the greatest success stories of all, breathing new life in the extracurricular scene. The secret society Scroll and Key — founded by those not tapped for Skull & Bones — is just one of the illustrious ancestors of rejects turned successes.
Especially in Yale’s comedy scene, new groups have spiced up the traditional offerings. Comedy groups like Safety Mix, Red Hot Poker, and Suite 13 are just a few of the newer generation of success stories. David Fabricant ’04 will never forget his rejection from The Fifth Humor in his freshman year. In an episode out of what is now Suite 13 lore, Fabricant pulled down his pants and wrote on his body with a sharpie for his audition. He was kicked out of the audition.
“They asked me to do a little improv, and they didn’t like what they saw,” Fabricant said.
Undeterred, Fabricant and a few friends (from Welch Hall’s Suite 13B) founded sketch comedy group Suite 13, now infamous for its particularly bawdy humor. The group began by throwing out all the tried and true signs of successful undergraduate organizations.
“There’s an odd reverence for tradition at Yale — which I don’t understand,” Fabricant said. “We’re not going to have recruitment shows, we’re not going to wear matching t-shirts.”
Fabricant said Suite 13’s shows can now fill lecture hall SSS 114, but it was not always easy to gain the (dis)respect they felt they deserved. Their first few shows had small audiences, and many doubted that a group of rejects could create a funny show.
“The reaction was, of course, skeptical,” Fabricant said.
Zachary Soto ’06, followed Fabricant’s lead and also turned his freshman-year rejection into comic inspiration. He and some friends founded sketch comedy group Red Hot Poker last year.
“We didn’t get into the groups we wanted,” Soto said. “We felt like, we know we’re funny, and if we get the chance to perform, the Yale community will think we’re funny.”
The group set about recruiting people who were not tapped, but Soto insists that Red Hot Poker has just as much talent as the other more established comedy groups.
“When you come to Yale, it’s just loaded with talented people,” he said. “[Red Hot Poker]’s just another outlet for people who are talented but did not get noticed by other groups.”
Jonathan Smith ’04, president of the two-year-old comedy group Safety Mix, agrees that the talent pool at Yale is deep enough for new groups to continue forming.
“I feel like everybody is born with a sense of humor,” he said. “You’ll be able to mold something out of nothing.”
Safety Mix member Maggie Wittlin ’05 said although last year the group tapped people who were not picked by other groups, they ended up being “really stellar.” This year, Smith said the group tapped, and was accepted by, everyone they wanted.
Jane Leibrock ’04, the director of improv group Purple Crayon, said the creation of so many new groups has forced the more established groups like Purple Crayon to differentiate themselves from the crowd.
“More than in years past, I know the Crayon is trying to tell people how exactly our improv is different,” she said. “It causes the groups to establish a clear identity for themselves.”
But Leibrock does not think that the scene will ever get so crowded that it needs a central council to create regulations, as exists in the a cappella community.
“[It’s] wonderful and healthy for the comedy scene to have expansion,” said Rebbecca Baneman, a member of The Viola Question.
And this is certainly good news for all those rejected freshmen in the class of 2007.
“Having to prove how funny we are has kept us going,” Soto said. “We’re not bitter.”