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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

In first show of the year, improv prevails

Published: September 7, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.

In a crowded Chums on Monday evening, three of Brandeis University’s four improvisational comedy groups were to perform for an audience of returning veterans and new first-year students, getting their first taste of all the university has to offer. Despite lacking the fourth group, TBA, and a last-minute change in time due to the tragedy that struck campus that day, the performance was refreshingly funny and well-stocked with the wonderful humor that has come to be expected from the resident improv groups.

The show opened with Crowd Control, and then continued on to False Advertising and Bad Grammer, each group performing a set of two to three acts, generally a mixture of long-form skits and short-form games that made use of both the wonderful comedic skills of the groups members. The show also featured very enthusiastic audience participation, with more clever ideas being thrown about the room than the performers could possibly have used.

The first of the three groups presented a short form game that took words presented by the audience and turned them into brief jokes. While very funny, this was only the appetizer to a long form skit, in which the players took a suggested word from the audience and extrapolated it into a 10 to 15 minute long skit. The skit began in the suggested topic and expanded into an absurd story about a movie pitch regarding a gangster shark, who eventually joined the scene himself.

What made this skit so effective is that the players bided their time, waiting for an appropriate entrance. A new member only joined the skit when it seemed to be drying up, pulling the story forward into steadily more and more absurd situations. By the end, there was so much else going on that it was almost easy to forget where the story had started. Nonetheless, it made for a highly entertaining performance and didn’t particularly need to stay true to the initial starting point.

Following Crowd Control, False Advertising (more commonly referred to as False Ad) took the stage. False Ad was easily the funniest performance of the three, and also stood out most prominently thanks to their very impressive use of musical improv, for which they are known. The non-musical skit, however, stood out quite well on its own, particularly through the distinct voices and characters put on by Kelsey Segaloff ’15 as she interacted with and played off of the three other members of her group. As a whole, the characters shifted to respond to the action, taking the skit far away from where it started but making it funnier and funnier with each twist.

Following the regular skit, the troupe performed their musical piece, which based on audience input was titled “Thank Money.”  Starting on the basis of personified money raised on farms, the story pitched the money farmer and his prized quarters against a young girl and her newly acquired friend, the bag of pennies. Silly in outlook, as all improv rightfully is, what was impressive about the skit is that it developed into a plot, with twists in the story, including scheming antagonists pitched against sweet and sympathetic heroes in a very funny short story. The sheer idea of musical improv is very appealing, and presents quite a challenge to the performers, one that the members of False Ad rose to in spectacular fashion.

The third and final group to take the stage was Bad Grammer, who began, oddly enough, with a skit about scalping. Though entertaining, the subject matter was potentially offensive, making it a bit touchy, particularly for a Brandeis audience, which tends to be particularly alert to such issues. In both this first skit and the game that followed, at many points the troupe seemed to rely more on silly accents to elicit laughter than the real wit employed by the other group, a sure weakness in the performance as a whole.

The second game, called Queue, was rather hard to follow but was funny enough and received a warm reception from the audience as a whole. Bad Grammer’s third game was by far the funniest part of their individual performance, which took three members of the troupe and had them give good, bad, and evil advice regarding college-related problems in response to audience suggestions. What was most apt about the advice game was that it took the absolute barrage of information about college life that people receive when they start at Brandeis and made a joke of it. As such, the game was tongue-in-cheek and relatable, even when the problems addressed were totally unrealistic. Bad Grammer ended their routine with a line game that seemed sloppy compared to similar games performed by the other troupes, but nonetheless had its own entertaining moments.

Though all three troupes, particularly False Ad and Crowd Control, were quite noticeably short staffed (each had only four members), they pulled off what surely must have been a very challenging show. As ever, another entertaining and exciting performance has succeeded at Brandeis.