I’m 80 percent sure that an improv show is the only place where you can order a group of people to shout their name and whether they’ve masturbated in their dorm room yet without HR repercussions. (If you can think of another appropriate place, let me know, and I’ll report back.)
At Improvaganza, the Viola Question did just that. The annual event allows improvisation groups on campus to bat their eyelashes and flex their muscles in front of an audience of mostly freshmen who might want to embark on the nerve-wracking process of rushing a comedy troupe. This year, and every year, it features premier groups like Just Add Water, Purple Crayon, the Exit Players, Lux Improvitas, and the Viola Question.
Being in an improv group at Yale is similar to being in a cult (but, like, a fun one) or at least it looks that way from the outside. Matching uniforms (literal jumpsuits in the case of Just Add Water) and weekly rehearsals really bond the group members together; you have to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses to perform the way improv groups do. It’s a social group of people who like to live on the border between humiliation and hilarity. Watching them felt sort of like riding a roller coaster without a seat belt, but that might just be me: I catch secondhand anxiety.
Improvaganza was Aug. 30 around 10:15 p.m. It was well-past my bedtime — I take Ben Franklin’s early bird thing very seriously — but I successfully dragged myself out of bed because (#1) I am a dedicated journalist and (#2) I thrive off of judging people.
After a brief introduction, the first group to perform was Just Add Water, a group unique in that they do long-form comedy, short-form comedy (do not ask me what that means) AND musical improv.
They ran through the aisles and jumped onstage and asked the audience to suggest a song title that wouldn’t typically be a song title. A very strange someone in the audience asked to be serenaded a song about earwax. Emma Speer ’17 took it into stride and started crooning about her troublesome ears. Delilah Napier ‘19 and Noah Ritz ’19 joined in. The chorus included romantic dates lit by candles made of earwax and the evils of Q-tips. The songs became more and more collaborative as it continued. I can confidently say that it was the first time a song about ear canals brought an audience together.
The Purple Crayon, appropriately clad in bright purple tees, ran onstage next. The troupe is the oldest long-form improv group on campus (still not 100 percent sure on what that means), and this year, has a crazy gender ratio. There’s just one girl, the hilarious Rachel Paul ’17. They’re looking to balance things out this audition cycle.
The troupe asked for a word to start the scene off. An audience member shouted “LOTION”, and suddenly there’s a bathtub filled with it onstage. A dermatologist is treating a patient with severe eczema. Then there’s a lice-infested boy. A chain-smoking elf. I’m sure this is bizarre to read, but it made sense onstage. They were witty and thrived in improv’s niche culture, where being weird and loud and goofy is celebrated.
The Viola Question specializes in long- and short-form improv. Their alumni have gone on to work on SNL, 30 Rock, The Colbert Report and other shows you probably know.
Consistent with that practically royal legacy, their first scene was a commercial starring Southern second cousins randy for each other. Tragically, one of the cousins, played by Ben Kronengold ’18 suffered from short-term memory loss. The other second cousin, the vivacious Isabella Giovannini ’17, is left alone. “Blue, don’t tell me you’ve forgotten already!”
The Exit Players, actually the oldest improv group on campus, asked for a nongeographical location. The audience came up with “airplane hangar”. Sam Levatich ’17 turned into a 90-year-old man who won a sweepstakes that let him board a special plane full of babies. I had to pay close attention to the scenes or the irony breezed right by.
The Exit Players are also arguably the most generous of the comedy troupes on campus: they teach improv workshops for students of all ages nationwide at schools and nonprofits. A perfect group to rush if you’re the socially-conscious funny person.
Last, but not least — Lux Improvitas! They specialize in what they call “long-form improvisational plays.” Their scenes are long, and they have the same thread of conflict and resolution instead of working toward a punch line that traditional plays do. While onstage, they performed a play on the Star Cruise spaceship.
One of its shining moments was an argument about what to call Martians. The captain mistakenly calls them “alien life-forms.” Her crewmember chimes in that they’re actually “nonterrestrial acquaintances” now.
Improv at Yale is one of the best things you can do. The people who do it are really the coolest kids on campus, and it becomes a huge part of what you do here at Yale. It’s an instant support system, a group of people who have officially chosen you out of everyone else. If you’re interested even a little bit in performing a few times every month, I urge you to audition. You’re more likely to regret not auditioning than auditioning. Even if you’re like me and the only jokes you tell are exclusively of the knock-knock variety, it’s worth a go!