On Friday and Saturday night, I endured a combined 10 hours of comedy courtesy of comedic improv troupes across the country. 8th Floor Improv, one of two campus improv groups, hosted the Bellwether Improv Festival at the U.S. Conference Bank Theater in the Ohio Union. The event lasted from 6 p.m. to about midnight on Friday, and 8 p.m. to about midnight on Saturday.
As a fan of both comedy and acting, I was extremely excited for this event. On Friday night, the other improv group on campus, Fishbowl Improv, opened the show with a humorous presentation of an airplane flight gone wrong. The long-form sketch had several moments of hilarity and brilliance. Phoenix Improv Company, a group from the University of Illinois, put on a gripping routine, punctuated by an impromptu rapping freestyle by one member that received loud applause.
The next group, Fatt Motis, hailed from the University of Missouri, and had one of the best performances of the night depicting a southern relationship love triangle filled with laughable drama. Immediate Gratification Players, a group from Harvard, followed up this performance with a lackluster performance that seemed to make light of former Penn State football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and stalking, among other uncomfortable things.
The next two groups, Loose Leaf and Family Exhibit both came to perform from Ohio University. Loose Leaf was a crowd favorite, focusing a captivating set on cell phone culture while Family Exhibit put together a humorous storyline showcasing the dangerous effects of a volcano upon the family of a college dropout.
The rest of the night featured mostly professional improv groups from New York City and Chicago. Groups Something Old Something New (SOSN), Warren and actor Brandon Gardner all entertained the audience. SOSN had a very avant-garde performance, featuring a group of guys who got together for Thanksgiving but ended up watching YouTube videos and becoming “bronies” (males who watch My Little Pony fervently). Warren had two situations: one involving a family trying to move on from the mother’s death, and one involving a gifted child attempting to resist skipping a grade despite the wishes of his principal. Although both had some continuity issues, both were equally comical. Gardner spent his time slot performing improv with an audience member who had never before participated in improv.
The Chicago groups, Mad Contender, Dumpster and Pudding-Thank-You, received mixed responses. I really liked Mad Contender, who strung together a story line of kids discussing the content of their pockets, and a rich kid having a flashback to how his father became wealthy. My least favorite group was Dumpster, a group of four women whose routine involving a woman getting married and bullied by her friends relied solely on immature sexual humor. Pudding-Thank-You, my favorite group of the night, successfully constructed a universe involving newspaper scandals and apocalyptic scenarios to thrill the audience.
The majority of groups on Saturday night were professional. Fruit Paunch (Columbia University) underwhelmed with a bizarre skit, while Awkward Silence (Indiana University) wowed with a funny routine about dead dogs and girl scout cookies. The 8th Floor alumni group did a respectable job, featuring a scandalous senator parking in the middle of public places. The group Twenty Grand performed extremely well, making light of several stereotypical aspects of drinking and sports.
Saturday night featured professional groups from NYC and Chicago, just as the previous night did. The only troupe from Chicago, Rainbow Deli, focused on an array of very well done sexual humor. State School from NYC didn’t strike a chord with me at all. They seemed to make sexualized torture a point of humor, but their ideas fell flat.
The other two NYC groups, Girls and Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company, were the best two groups of the whole festival. Girls dedicated a whole set to a scene in which four guys portrayed middle school girls on a dance committee failing to correctly utilize their budget, and displayed several sassy characteristics that led to a standing ovation from the audience. Upright Citizens, a famous comedy troupe started by Amy Poehler and other famous comedians, brought five members who were given twice the normal time for a set (55 minutes as opposed to 25 minutes for every other group), and wowed the audience by depicting current events at Ohio State as well as the events of an audience member’s life after an interview.
As a whole, Girls, Upright Citizens and Pudding-Thank-You were the most talented groups in the festival. All were creative, innovative, and pleased the crowd for the duration of their respective sets. The overall quality of comedy in the festival was truly exceptional and entertaining. Bellwether was a tremendous success, and I can’t wait for it to return next year.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 2, 2013
An earlier version of this story falsely stated that the improv group Twenty Grand was an 8th Floor alumni group.