Improv comedy extravaganza offers high energy, few laughs

On Friday night, the University Programs Council put on an improv comedy show in Newcomb Ballroom featuring two of the University’s groups — the Whethermen and Amuse Bouche — as well as the Upright Citizens Brigade, a nationally renowned ensemble whose notable alumni include Amy Poehler and Horatio Sanz.

The Whethermen opened with a set that ran for about five minutes. Dressed in jeans and white T-shirts, the group took the stage with a scene that was centered around some kind of family gathering, though what exactly was going on was unclear. There was a recurrent joke about drugged food that continued after the humor in it, scant to begin with, had worn off. Some members developed consistent and amusing characters, such as a grandmother serving questionable dishes, but others looked uncomfortable and spoke with the rigidity familiar to anyone who’s sat through a high school play.

Amuse Bouche followed the Whethermen with a long-form routine. They started off by asking the audience to suggest a topic, any topic. “Apple juice!” shouted someone from somewhere on the right. Amuse Bouche rolled with apple juice, jumping into a story about a fire started by combusting fruit. While I was initially impressed by how quickly they came up with a plot, I realized the feat was a pretty basic requirement for an improv comedy group, and that I was in a “Well I’ll be damned, they’ve met expectations,” mindset.

Scenes shifted fluidly, generally consisting of two members creating a situation unconnected to the one preceding it, gradually moving further away from the “apple juice” theme. Clever one-line quips like, “Mindless repetition, that’s what I said I was good at on the application,” were more successful than long speeches that often struggled to find humor rooted in weird personas. The best moments were rapid exchanges of dialogue.

The Upright Citizens Brigade pulled a first-year volunteer to interview on stage before they began, and they used bits of the conversation that ensued as material for their set. The problem was that nothing the kid said was particularly interesting or unusual, so the group was ultimately forced to rest their references on a weak foundation. At one point during the interview, when asked about the people on his floor, the first-year described them as being “pretty chill.” That sent the audience and the actors into uproarious laughter. From behind me I heard an unamused viewer whisper, “Is everyone high?” to a friend. I silently shared the sentiment. By forming most of their punchlines around two or three word interview responses that the audience had inexplicably found hilarious, they created what felt like a half-hour-long inside joke that I wasn’t in on.

That said, given the skit’s sketchy foundations, the group did the best it could, and the ensemble members managed to keep the narrative structured and coherent. Unfortunately, for every funny moment, there were a few major clunkers. A depiction of an exchange between the interviewee and his academic advisor, for instance, got off to a promising start with a short, cocky comment from the interviewee and then lagged as the actor turned it into a monologue. Blurted comments and asides were often funny, but speeches were, unfortunately, more frequent.

Despite the show’s flaws, it is undeniable that all three groups had a lot of energy, and the sense of self-awareness and excitement that they presented redeemed the faults in some of the content of their performances.

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