I don’t know about you, but my first couple weeks at Yale have been underscored with a constant stream of “so this is my life now” moments. I’ve felt this way while walking down cross campus with my friends; I’ve also felt this way about wanting dinner at 4 p.m. (thank you Yale brunch schedule). But, as I stepped forth into a circle of prospective sketch-comedy members and began to “giddy-up,” my mind was populated only with existential ruminations.
What is it all for? I wondered, as I shimmied up against another freaked-out first year.
I slowly lifted my arm into the air, hesitated a few seconds, and began to wave around my imaginary lasso. To start auditions, students play a game called Pony. What is Pony, you might ask? Well, Pony is the quirky college-comedy version of “the name game.” One by one, sketch-comedy members chant something about “riding that big fat pony” as scared auditionees introduce themselves by attempting to ride said pony.
What happens after we die? I thought to myself, mid-gallop.
Listen, I love sketch comedy. I grew up watching SNL with my dad, and he always told me that he thought that I could be a cast member. But, as I let out my second “yeehaw” of the evening, it finally hit me that he might be full of baloney.
My friend and I had stumbled across the comedy tables at that needlessly overwhelming extracurricular bazaar, and we (I) decided that it would be a fun thing if we both did an audition. All we would have to do, the group member informed us, was read through a sketch. Super chill, dude.
This is my Public Service Announcement: it was NOT “super chill, dude.” Auditionees are put into groups, handed a sketch and then take turns cold-reading for all of the characters in that sketch. This works well when the auditionees are funny, and much less well when they are not. In any case, the 15-some panel of current group-members make sure to laugh really loudly whenever someone delivers their lines.
After about an hour-and-a-half of auditions, all auditionees individually stand in front of this 15-person panel and recite a piece of “memorized material” in the voice of a character of their choosing. One by one, auditionees enter the sacred walls of some LC classroom and recite humpty-dumpty in the voice of a valley girl, or the pledge of allegiance as the protagonist at the end of an indie-movie. You can gauge how well this phase of the audition is going by the noise that echoes from the room and pours into the hallway: a couple of incomprehensible muffled noises and an ensuing eruption of laughter tends to be a good thing. If you hear the muffles followed by a sparse sprinkling of very loud “HA HA HAs,” the quality of the audition is notably more dubious.
“I feel bamboozled,” I remarked as I walked out of the doors of LC post-recitation of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star as a very upset “Karen.” As someone with no past theater experience (unless you count my starring role in my kindergarten production of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom), this entire process forced me to confront a set of very serious questions:
- Is this what Yale is?
- Are these the kinds of things you’re supposed to do in college?
- How can one group of students be so loud?
- What happens when we die?
When I picture the creative process, I imagine an artist seated in front of a canvas. They brush one stroke of paint onto the blank slate, stare at it for a while, and then decide to add another. After about an hour, they have created something that doesn’t look that great, but will slowly and painstakingly turn into something wonderful. Now imagine that you are that artist, but you are not very good at painting, and your blank canvas is a room of 15 funny people that are waiting for you to instantly and effortlessly make them laugh. All I wanted to do was ride that big fat pony all the way back to my dorm and retreat.
After a sum total of about 4 hours of auditioning (one audition and a callback), I am here to reiterate what we all already know: the sketch comedy groups at Yale are wonderful. They are also incredibly competitive. I can confidently say that at least 80 students auditioned for the same group this year; they picked five. The friend that I dragged to the audition, who, post-callback, so valiantly claimed that she “would never consider lending her time to such an art form unless we both got in and I insisted that she participate” was selected as a member. She immediately and enthusiastically accepted her offer. As for me, I will be enthusiastically attending all of her performances.
I don’t think my dad was correct in his declaration of my future career path, but I am grateful for his misanalysis. To all Yalies present and future, do the audition — even if it takes four very overwhelming hours out of your life, even if you have to break out your bad valley-girl accent. Get up on that pony. I promise it will make for a good story.