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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

24-hour Improvathon worth the all-nighter

Published: April 27, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.

Working at Chum’s, one gets to see a lot of shows, plays, performed poems, stand-up routines and bands of all stripes. Once, a band I saw on shift had packed the entire house and proceeded with some of the worst metallic rubbish I have ever heard, quickly emptying the place and greatly decreasing my workload for the night. I have received more than one musical tribute from our stage guest at the stroke of midnight, as it is a sort of cliche at Chums to salute those of us humbly standing behind the counter. But few events in my years working at the best job on campus compare to the annual Improvathon show, the 24-hour nonstop improvisation event held Saturday through Sunday.

I worked the most grave of graveyard shifts, from 4 to 9 a.m. The very first thing I was treated to, upon groggily entering, was the most loud and even more inappropriate song dedicated to my soon-to-be-graduate fellow Chumster. Sexually risque parody is perhaps the most enduring feature at Chez Cholmondeley, but I revised my hopes for this wee-hour entertainment on the basis of this welcome. I was not disappointed.

Improvathon’s only rule is that the stage must be occupied at all times. That and nothing can be pre-choreographed. My favorite part of all improv performances makes use of this challenge, inviting random, often lurid phrases from the audience. The ragtag group, counting the minutes until the sun came up Sunday morning, tackled make-believe romantic exploits with the likes of the Founding Fathers and Michael Jackson (harder than it sounds), and even recounted a rhetorical menage-a-trois with Winston Churchill.

The audience can make all the difference in these exchanges. The 5 a.m. slot of games, for example, made a member of the audience, which was of a dwindling number, feel like an equal cast member in a lively, irreverent production.

The marathon joke-makers could do a solo too, in what was perhaps the most difficult improv skit of the show: the hour-long non-stop exposition. There were no new ideas, no scene cuts—just an hour of the same straight idea that after 25 minutes you may regret suggesting to the somehow-still-smiling stagehands. Few groups can keep it funny after the first half-hour, and although it dragged at times earlier in the night, once the quick games returned, the show rebounded.

One-liners are what we remember most from Improvathon. Many cannot be printed in this newspaper. Perhaps one of the beauties of Improvathon is that this sunrise-shift reviewer may have had low standards on such little sleep. But there were at least several hours in which I was laughing out loud, even if it was only sleepily-hysterically or simply to avoid falling over.

I admit that I could not help from dozing for about 45 minutes on the worse-for-wear sofas in Chum’s, but the fact that when I awoke to a loud shouting of my name involved in the act on stage is a measure of Improvathon’s fun. Clearly now that I was the last audience member, I was to be the subject of some tribute, or more likely, the butt of jokes. But at least I resisted the urge to get on stage with them. It was hard work too, because when I woke up, after so brief an interlude, I had more than an hour and a half left of viewing, and that was only if I stayed for what I had to do.

I didn’t need to be paid to enjoy this show. Not only was this act after my forced power nap even funnier than the midnight, dark-outside acts, but I almost forget about the sun that had now completely risen.

Unlike me, the improvisers got more interesting the more tired they became, and after I could no longer suggest ideas for them, they did an excellent job merging the self-exposition with the quick, one-line games. We supplied them with props from the kitchen in Chum’s (always sterilized before and after, of course …) while they made some on their own.

The group with chief star David Getz ’15 made my maximum tolerable portion of Improvathon great fun. The fact that this group had been on hours before me and would go on all day only increased the pleasure and wonder of a viewer. When I left mid-morning on Sunday, I couldn’t believe that I’d been there more than six hours or that I still had the very unprintable tribute to Ynbal Landesman stuck in my head as I finally got to bed.