At 8:30 p.m. last Friday night, hundreds of students of all years flocked to Sanders in order to attend the Fall Comedy Preview Show, which marked the official beginning of the 2014-2015 comedy season at Vassar. The sketch comedy groups Happily Ever Laughter (HEL), No Offense, The Limit and Indecent Exposure, improvisational groups Committed and VC Improv, plus the exclusively stand-up group Comedy Normative gathered in Sanders Classroom to perform for an audience that filled even the standing room of the auditorium. Having so tightly packed a space is the status quo when it comes to the turnout for comedy shows at Vassar. The show gave the groups the opportunity to show freshmen and the larger campus who they are and what they are all about, as well as to raise excitement over Vassar’s large and diverse comedy scene before Sunday’s round auditions.
“It’s an annual event and a tradition that this early on in the school year, freshmen get to see a little bit from every single comedy group that holds auditions,” said Shira Mizel ’16 of HEL and VC Improv. “It gives freshmen the opportunity to see the scope of the entire comedy scene and to figure out what shows they want to go to or if they want to audition for all of them, which is what I did, or they can pick and choose.”
Auditions were held all day Sunday and students of all years made themselves vulnerable and took comedic chances in order to become a part of a comedy group. “Every group has sort of a different way they do comedy, and I think that is a little bit reflected by how the auditions are run,” recalled Mizel, who actually auditioned for all of the groups when she was first getting into comedy on campus. “For example, in HEL we have a series of questions that are pretty open-ended. They give us a chance to hear from [those auditioning] as well as create a very safe environment, because comedy is vulnerable and sensitive, so we want people to just be themselves.”
For sketch comedy groups, the first round of auditions gives current group members the opportunity to get to figure out the sense of the humor of those auditioning. The groups then hold callbacks, where potential members prepare and then perform original sketches. “We saw about 48 people, and towards the end it was getting pretty rough, but I think it was strong throughout the day,” said Evan Chyriwski ’17 of No Offense after the first round of auditions. “At the beginning we had great people and at the end we had great people. I really enjoyed the process.”
Improv groups, on the other hand, run their auditions a bit differently. “We play[ed] games, word association games, things like that, and little scenes where we [saw] what they do, who they are, what they know, how they can take direction, and how they respond to little pieces we give them,” said Riley Bradshaw ’15 of Committed. “But we didn’t really have expectations. We just wanted to see what people are like.”
“For [VC] Improv auditions, we have different exercises for different things. Some people are really great at characters, so we want for that to come out,” said Mizel. “For me, just being able to respond honestly, spontaneously and courteously to your scene partners, which is most important, that’s what I value. So I want to create an opportunity for people to just listen and to be supportive.”
The support Mizel described is business as usual for Vassar’s comedy scene. Each group is incredibly diverse in terms of their members—Indecent Exposure is Vassar’s all-female comedy group—and style. “I think Vassar has a really wonderful comedy, especially given how small our student body is. There is definitely something for everyone, and if there isn’t I think it’s a safe space for you to start your own thing,” said Mizel, whose personal goal is to host an ‘Improv Jam,’ where anyone can get up and perform—regardless of whether or not they are affiliated with a group. “I applaud Harris Gordon [’15] for recently starting Committed, because even though there is a lot of opportunities for writing and performing sketch, we only had VC Improv and I think you can learn a lot from improvising with a lot of different people.”
A new school year brings major changes for each group. “I think the groups on campus have already shifted because they lost old members, and I think changing is a beneficial thing,” said Albert Muzquiz ’17 of No Offense. “The new blood will change it, but only for the better. But the character of each of there groups will stay the same essentially.”
Auditions are a big deal for the members of these groups because they allow for the groups to change and set the tone for the rest of the year’s performances. Sarah Zimmerman ’16 of No Offense made a special visit to Vassar in order to help deliberate after auditions for her group before going abroad. “It was so much fun. It was pretty much a non-stop, 12-hour day, but I loved every minute of it—even the worst parts,” she said.
The worst part? “Honestly, I would say choosing people was the worst part—everyone was so good,” said Zimmerman. “I hate people who say ‘it was so hard to choose,’ but it honestly is. You choose people over other people, and it’s the worst. You’d think, going into it, ‘this will be fun, just picking people to hang out,’ but you end saying, ‘aw man, I wanted them all.’”