Comedy conjured from HEL

On Sept. 30, HEL doused their audience with water in their fall show in the Susan Stein Shiva Theater. The group’s new members got both to perform and have their own sketches performed. / Courtesy of HEL: Sketch Comedy via Facebook

Designated splash zones are commonly found at attractions such as Splash Mountain at Disney World or the Big Kahuna at Hurricane Harbor. Last Saturday, you could find this amusement-park staple at Happily Ever Laughter’s (HEL’s) first sketch show of the semester..

In their fall show in the Susan Stein Shiva Theater, titled “HEL: Now in 4D!,” the comedy group presented a wide variety of sketches that included the likes of losing chess games with toad spirits, Sprite as a laundry detergent and a French chain-smoking character à la “Dora the Explorer.”

As well as being their first sketch comedy show of the semester, this was also the debut performance for HEL’s new members, Jeff Montoya ’21, Breanna Piercy ’21 and Tino Valentino ’21.

Besides differentiating in form (sketch, stand-up and improv), each comedy group has its own general aesthetic that makes their ensemble unique. Explaining what drew him to audition specifically to HEL this year, Valentino said, “Everyone was just so funny and entertaining; I didn’t know it was possible to laugh for an hour straight, but that’s exactly what happened. I think my favorite sketch so far was the strep throat sketch, with the giant toad spirit. It was re- ally hard not to laugh at that one, no matter how many times I saw it being rehearsed. In reality, I loved every sketch that made it into the show, and even quite a few that didn’t make it in (that I hope will be included in later shows). Everyone just writes such witty and funny sketches; it’s so hard to just choose one.”

On Sept. 2, all of the comedy groups hosted a preview show in Sanders Classroom. Over the following weekend, the groups held auditions and callbacks in Rockefeller Hall. Since then, each group has been meeting and preparing for shows later this semester.

Indecent Exposure, Vassar’s all-femme comedy group, already hosted a stand-up show, “The Mandela Effect,” on Sept. 16, featuring new members. On Thursday, Oct. 5, Vassar College Vassar Improv will be performing their show “Inaugurate This!” in Rocky 300. The Limit will also be having a show shortly after October break.

The HEL show began with a video that acted as an introduction to the members of the group. In a game of hide and seek, the different members scattered as President of HEL Becca Slot- kin ’18 chased them while dressed as Pennywise from “It.”

For his first show, Montoya wrote a sketch called “Angels,” which had an angel designating new saints with unexceptional patronages.

Montoya succinctly described the process for getting this show together: “Terrifying. I auditioned three, maybe four weeks ago. Then we came together twice with a bunch of our sketch- es either half-written or fully written. And we just read them out loud with characters randomly assigned. We would workshop, take notes, critique, offer advice or go back and forth with what we thought could be possible jokes. And then we met again for a third time and voted on what sketches we all wanted to do as a group.”

Montoya continued, “The vote was a week and a half before the show. For the week of the show, we practiced and rehearsed from Sunday to Saturday. It was more work than I expected in a compact schedule.”

To designate where the splash zone was, at the beginning of the show the group projected a warning that those sitting in the first two rows might get wet. Leaving trash bags for audiences to use as makeshift ponchos, audience members were squirted with water throughout various sketches.

In one particular scene, “Triple Mike,” two contestants are at a spelling bee. While one gives mostly correct answers, the other character, Triple Mike, gives absurd and often unintelligible responses. As punishment for wrong answers, the first contestant—and in the act the audience—gets doused with water guns.

A member of HEL for the last three years, Ray Cagnetta ’19 has frequently had her sketches featured in their shows and performed an assortment of roles. Discussing what she’s loved about being in the group, she said, “My favorite part of HEL is the week of the show. It’s a stressful time, but you get to see the sketches you wrote go from ideas to performances. A lot of the time during the rehearsal process, one person will improv part of a sketch and make us laugh so hard that we decide to keep it. Sometimes sketches kind of evolve and turn out way funnier than you could have ever dreamed.”

One of HEL’s recurring sketches, which are also called runners, features one character constantly losing chess games to a giant toad spirit. With each loss, the character makes even more bizarre wagers, such as always wondering if they have strep throat at a certain time of day or having to peck at their food three times before actually taking a bite.

Even though this show followed HEL’s traditional rehearsal process, the incorporation of the splash zone added on to the already rigorous schedule.

Slotkin and other members developed the concept for the splash zone last semester, generating sketches that would allow them to incorporate this innovation. When the opportunity arose for them to be in the Shiva, their traditional venue for the fall show, it became an opportunity not to be overlooked.

Slotkin explained why the Shiva show was the perfect opportunity to have a splash zone: “There was still a little bit of controversy in do- ing the splash zone this time, but we ultimately agreed that that was part of why we were doing the show. We always do our first show in the Shiva, but I figured that if we have the Shiva, that’s the only space we could feasibly do the splash zone, since Sanders [Classroom] wouldn’t be okay with that.

Slotkin elaborated on the positive and negative circumstances for incorporating the water element in their rehearsals, “The Shiva is the best space for doing that weird-different thing. I guess rehearsing it was a bit difficult because it was an additional tech aspect of working in the water.”

Cagnetta added, “‘HEL: Now in 4D!’ started out as a joke about having a splash zone in one of our shows, and then we ended up actually doing it. I think the hardest part was figuring out the logistics of how to throw water on people during a sketch. We had fun with it. I hope the audience did, too.”

HEL’s last show, “April Thirst,” was on April 1 in Sanders Auditorium. Other members of HEL include Joseph Beaty ’19, Isaac Kohl ’19, Jacob Liss ’20, Daniel Rosen ’20 and Patrice Scott ’19. Traditionally, the group will have an another show either later this semester or after winter break and, they will also have a third show after spring break.

Piercy had her first sketch appear in this “HEL: Now in 4D!” “Chad” follows a teenage boy playing “Wonderwall” by Oasis on guitar while discussing his family’s drug business and where he is secretly hiding heroin.

Expressing her goal to write more for future shows, Piercy commented, “I want to improve my writing. I’ve always enjoyed writing but I’ve never had the chance to do anything with what I’d written before or write as scripts. I want to learn about how comedy works and how to make people laugh. It’s fun. I enjoy it.”


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