Making people laugh is a time-honored tradition at Vassar, and one that never fails to capture the eyes and ears of the community. Whatever the form–stand-up, sketch or improv–the various comedy groups on campus have long since captured the eyes and ears of students. With the coming release of their latest webseries, “Other Tragic People,” VCTV will explore a new comedic medium incorporating both live performance and fictional narrative.
The series features the lives of stand-up comedians both on and off the stage, blending humor with more subtle character study. Sarah Zimmerman ’16, one of the comedians who will be featured in the series, explained, “The show is in the same vein as ‘Louie’ and ‘Seinfeld,’ where it connects stand-ups and their acts to real ideas in their lives. So we will have a live stand-up show that’s hosted and filmed by the crew at VCTV, and then a few of us will write sketches based on our stand-up acts that will be packaged together with our performance to create an episode of the show.”
Creator of “Other Tragic People” Victoria Youngblood ’16 noted that the inspiration for the series stemmed from a personal desire to delve into the double-edged lives of stand-up comedians, whose thoughts are not often mentioned beyond what their routines reveal. “Comedy has become a central force in my life, and a number of people in [my life] who are very important to me are people I got to know through comedy,” she remarked. “I have come to believe deeply in what you could broadly call ‘comic relief’–the use of comedy and laughter as a tool for processing and expressing personal experience, including (or especially) the parts that are not in themselves funny.”
She continued, “This is why I’m interested in the juxtaposition of a comedian’s stand-up persona and unaffected personality. These will inevitably be distinct from one another, but I think tend to be connected by a unique perspective on the world, which persists on-stage and off-stage.”
Similarly, producer Ashley Hoyle ’18 mused that the show hopes to offer viewers a telling account of the life of an entertainer. “‘Other Tragic People’ I think is going to be impactful for its dichotomy of portrayals,” she commented. “I think people are really going to be challenged to think about performance personas versus actual people and the intersections and departures of those two characters existing in singular individuals. I think it will be really a hilarious and quirky blend of comedy and tragedy that will get people laughing and thinking as well.”
A nuanced take on comedy is not the “Other Tragic People” production team’s only goal for the project, however. Each episode will follow a different comedian. It will open with their stand-up and then continue into their daily lives. The structure is based on “Louie,” Louis C.K.’s popular television show about a fictionalized version of himself. In the show, there is a lot of crossover between his life as a stand-up comedian and newly single father.
According to VCTV Vice President and executive producer on the show Michael Iselin ’16, many of the episodes will feature students who have never performed before. He explained, “We have a few comedy people in the show as well as some people new to stand up who are working together really well.”
According to Youngblood, “In the casting process, we were especially interested in those who had not done stand-up before. Of the 10 performers in the line-up, seven have never done stand-up at Vassar.” Youngblood wanted new performers to have as many opportunities as possible. She continued, “We wanted this event to involve performers other than those cast in the web series itself. While time and resources only allow for a limited number of episodes, it was important to maximize the number of opportunities for those were interested to perform stand up.”
Zimmerman reiterated the significance of including new comics. “I think the show will showcase some people that aren’t necessarily within the official comedy scene here at Vassar, but are still comedians in their own right.”
For Hoyle, the show highlights some of the best comedic talent Vassar has. She explained, “This show and event are both a really phenomenal opportunity to see the best of Vassar comedy all in one place. Too often, our favorite campus comedians are divided by group or our funniest friends aren’t interested in actually performing comedy. ‘Other Tragic People’’s cast has some of the brightest, veteran stars of campus comedy (bridging many orgs) as well as some of the most genuinely funny individuals whom have never done stand up before.”
Beyond offering the chance to perform, the show probes some serious questions. According to Iselin, the significance goes beyond getting a few laughs. He explained, “It’s almost like each set is a glimpse into their lives which is super exciting.”
This glimpse can be revealing. Iselin continued, “On a small scale, it says just because someone is funny or tells certain types of jokes does not mean that’s who they are. More broadly, the show wants to say just because people seem happy or funny or sad does not mean that’s how they actually are. Are people not performing in their everyday lives too?”
This kind of comedy, new to Vassar, fuses many popular methods of the craft. According to Zimmerman, “Everyone’s kind of trying a little bit of everything, and those types of dynamic performers are what this is showcasing.”