Two years ago, a man passing through Cross Campus the first Friday of April happened upon a group of tired and hungry students. Handing them $200, he explained, “I was going to buy a Playstation 2, but you guys need this more.”
While not exactly the sorry cases the man seemed to think they were, the students surely still appreciated his generous appreciation of their efforts. Members of the comedy group the Viola Question, the students were engaged in performing the group’s famous 12 hour marathon of improvisational humor, which takes place on Cross Campus every year. With the happy coincidence of this year’s marathon falling on April Fool’s Day, the group has all the more reason to go all out during this culmination of their year.
Director Justin Noble ’06 said the format of the marathon will not be dramatically different from past performances, but there will be a few creative new additions to the program.
“At the moment, we are working out a guest spot for the Slavic Chorus,” Noble said. “They’ll sing and we will act out their crazy language songs.”
But Slavic Chorus aside, VQ member Jocelyn Ranne ’07 said the group definitely plans to bring back old favorites like “Bazooka Joe,” which Ranne said debuted at last year’s marathon and has since developed a following.
The typical VQ marathon show consists of 50 games repeated roughly 100 times, Ranne said. Many of these games rely on audience members’ suggestions for interpersonal relationships, non-geographical locations and random objects the group should incorporate in the skits.
Preparation for a show as long as this one can be difficult, Noble said. Much of the group sees its entire season as preparation for this 12-hour test of comedic endurance.
Ranne said being funny for 12 hours becomes exhausting. But the group has found ways to ease the burden of constant joke making. At the change of every hour, the group celebrates by running around Cross Campus with piercing whistles, proudly crossing off an hour marker on one of its signboards. Additionally, a game called “But Seriously,” in which a player is penalized for being funny, allows them to rest their comedic chops. Seriously.
Ex!t Player R. David Edelman ’07 said he recognized the difficulty of the 12-hour marathon.
“Having done improv for almost two years now, it’s exhausting as all hell,” Edelman said. “One-hour shows take a lot of energy, I can’t imagine what it’s like to do it for 12.”
Moreover, not every group can perform for 12 hours, Edelman noted. For example, the Ex!t Players employ a different style of improv, using different games, that does not lend itself to shows of marathon proportions.
Even for the type of comedy VQ does, there is a limit to the amount of time any group can perform, Noble said.
“There are only so many different jokes that a person can make,” Noble said. “[The] marathon is great because it proves that number to be somewhere between 10 and 12 hours’ worth.”
Noble said that even with the exhaustion, the experience always ultimately proves to be a rewarding one.
“There is nothing I would rather do for 12 straight hours than improv with the VQ,” Noble said. “Then again, I will be very content collapsing and sleeping for more than 12 hours as soon as it is over.”
According to Ranne, this 12-hour performance provides “a test of mental fortitude.”
But Ranne — and the other members of the VQ — do not intend the marathon to be an ascetic experience. Ranne jests, “people should feel free to stop by with food, money or sex.”