Not everyone can perform in front of a crowd and make them laugh, but members of Purdue’s three improvisational comedy groups have figured out how to do just that.
Ad Liberation, Ship of Fools and The Crazy Monkeys all share their dedication to the art of improv comedy, where comedians perform unscripted acts.
Gavin Craig, the president of Ad Liberation and a senior in the College of Pharmacy, explained that improv comedy is all about being open.
“One of the biggest things you’ll learn about improv is that ‘yes, and...’ is the most important thing,” Craig said.
The idea of “yes, and...” is that comedians should never negate what someone else said but only add to it.
Craig said what they try to look for in members of their improv troupe are people who are willing to do whatever is spontaneously asked of them and run with it.
“We are always looking for people who, when put in a situation that they don’t quite understand, their first instinct is to accept it and add on to it,” Craig said.
Members of the three improv groups discussed the importance of having an open mind and how that enables them to dive into the scene or game they’re playing.
Ben Daugherty, a member of Ship of Fools and a junior in the College of Education, said the idea of completely clearing his mind before shows was what allowed him to immerse himself in the art.
“We try and go with the mindset of nothingness,” Daugherty said. “Nothing, because the whole point of improv is it’s improvised, right?
“So we try to keep in mind: Don’t go in with a plan, work with what you have and especially work well with your scene partners because they are your lifeline.”
Connor O’Leary, a member of The Crazy Monkeys and a junior in the College of Liberal Arts, also said he always tries to go into scenes freely so he can make comedy from what is given to him.
“It’s been said that ‘acting is reacting,’ and I think that’s entirely true for improv,” O’Leary said. “Sure, it’s important to think of clever ideas and stuff on stage, but at the end of the day, the funniest thing of all is the truth.”
Brody Conner, an Ad Liberation member and senior in the College of Science, reiterated the idea of clearing the mind during a performance to facilitate true comedy.
“I shut off my mind, because any other ideas of where you think you want the scene to go or what you want to do with it in terms of the art is going to lead you astray,” Conner said. “So it’s best to go into a scene, for me personally, with my mind completely blank.”
Other comedians, like Zachary Caprous, a sophomore in the College of Liberal Arts and member of Ship of Fools, said he focuses on what is going on around him, rather than trying to be funny immediately.
“A lot of people think that improv is about being funny,” Caprous said. “A lot of times that can damage the scene if you’re trying to be the funniest person in the room. But you’re trying to create a realistic scene, so once you find the part that’s funny, you can then play off of that.”
Caprous also mentioned the importance of working with the people on his team, because it is all of them together which makes the show interesting.
“I really try to focus on who I am: the character that I’m playing, the relationship I have with that other person and what I can do to make that relationship go further and make the scene more interesting,” Caprous said.
Members of each improv group said participating in their troupe has changed their lives for the better.
“I’ve done improv for a long time,” said Donelle Birch, a member of Ad Liberation and a sophomore in the College of Liberal Arts. “I like it because it constantly forces me out of my comfort zone and to do things I wouldn’t normally do.”
Birch also said improv was what helped her be more comfortable in her day-to-day life.
“I used to be really, really shy, and I’m still shy, but improv helped me to break out of my shell and be more comfortable in general in life, because your whole life is improv,” Birch said.
O’Leary said he was drawn to improv, and even after leaving it for a while, he came back to it out of love for the art form.
“I had the itch that could only be scratched through performing improv. I auditioned for The Crazy Monkeys and the rest is history,” O’Leary said.
Some members, like Jordan Kubisz, a senior in the College of Liberal Arts and vice president of Ad Liberation, also believe improv has helped them by giving them a space where they can forget the stress of academics and just laugh.
“It’s an outlet for us to get our creative side out,” Kubisz said. “Especially after we have a stressful week, we can just come here and for an hour and a half, we can just be idiots and let it all go.”
Conner said he felt everyone could benefit from trying improv.
“I would honestly say for everyone that they need to at least take an improv class or do improv once in their life,” he said. “Because doing improv with all of these people ... it’s made me grow as a person in all aspects of my life.”