Comedy groups bring laughter, foster community amid COVID-19

Indecent Exposure members Camryn Casey '21, Logan Walker '21, Ilia Mahns '23, Karina Curry '21, Xanthe Setchko '24, Sadie Krichmar '24, and Emma Tulchinsky '22. Courtesy of Karina Curry '21.

Nitrous Oxide and Indecent Exposure, two of Vassar’s most prominent comedy groups, have been hard at work this semester to bring joy to campus during these uncertain times. 

Nitrous, Vassar College’s only improv and stand-up comedy group, is led by co-Presidents Ben Gillard ’22 and Jordana Judd ’23, both of whom joined the org last year. As the former president of his high school’s sketch comedy and improv groups, Gillard came to campus familiar with the world of comedy and eager to bring his infectious sense of humor to Vassar. Judd, who auditioned for Nitrous on a whim, says of her introduction to the comedic scene: “I have always enjoyed comedy and have been known to make (bad) jokes, so I thought it would be interesting to try.” The group’s comedy forms and styles range from improv and stand-up to digital sketches, which speaks volumes to its members’ adaptability. Gillard attributes this skill to the tight-knit nature of the group. “We really are like a family because we trust each other and our ability to be funny,” he says. At the end of the day,  Judd views Nitrous as a community. “Our focus is on making each other laugh and just having a good time,” Judd added.

A Nitrous meeting typically begins with a check-in question. Gillard gives an example of a group favorite: “If you could be on a 2000s era Disney Channel show, which one would it be?” Depending on whether Nitrous’ next show is stand-up or improv, the group will work on their routines or play improv games to practice. Due to COVID-19, the org has moved their usual weekly meeting in Rocky to Zoom. These Zoom meetings are even recorded as a podcast called “Knocking Heads with Nitrous Oxide” for those who can’t attend. While the group typically puts on one or two shows a semester, their only in-person performance this year was on Halloween. Each member (currently there are four) put on a 10–15 minute set for the show, which was titled “Clowning Around: A Spooky Scary Halloween Show.” The show also featured Comedy Normative (Com Nom)  and Happily Ever Laughter (Hel). For their Halloween performance, it was a challenge for Nitrous to figure out how to safely perform during a pandemic while maintaining the comedic integrity of the act. “I think we pulled it off and gave people a chance to laugh when they really needed to,” Gillard noted. The performance was held in the classroom tent outside the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film with each segment capped at 25 people. To reach as many members of the community as possible, three shows were held that night. “The ambience was a little hesitant at first as I think the audience wasn’t sure if we’d be able to pull it off with all the restrictions in place, but once the first jokes were told the laughs started to flow,” Gillard recalled. 

Karina Curry ’21, like Judd, also joined a comedy group on a whim and now holds the title of co-President. Along with Camryn Casey ’20, Curry leads Indecent Exposure, Vassar’s only all women & genderqueer comedy group. Meetings for Indecent Exposure are held twice a week, with one being on Zoom this year. The group has remained adamant in maintaining at least one weekly in-person meeting. “In doing so we can feel a real sense of community and safety with one another.” Curry commented. Similar to Nitrous, each Indecent Exposure meeting begins with a quick check-in, which is followed by creating characters, shows or bits for upcoming events or editing content. In previous years, performances are typically held in Sanders Auditorium as either a sketch show, a stand-up show or something in between. This year, most meetings are spent brainstorming new ways to produce content. At the beginning of the semester, Indecent Exposure released a sequence of stand-up videos on IGTV. While this is the new normal, it is still a bit unnerving to this organization’s members. In addition to becoming more tech savvy to overcome obstacles when faced with editing and filming this new form of content, members had to accept the fact their work would be forever memorialized on the internet. “Unlike a live show, people can pause, rewind, share and come back to it. The stakes feel higher these days,” Curry noted. In addition to their IGTV stand-up series, Indecent Exposure plans to host a radio show and release sketch videos in place of their usual three shows a semester: a stand-up performance, a sketch show and either a combination of the two or a Buddies Show. The Buddies Show is a yearly event in which Indecent Exposure opens their stage up to any Vassar student who wants to do stand-up for a night. 

Curry’s favorite part of Indecent Exposure is the group’s unique identity. The organization provides the only affinity space for college comedy on campus that amplifies historically marginalized voices, specifically prioritizing members of color. As it is comprised exclusively of marginalized genders such as women, non-binary folks and trans men, there is an strong sense of safety and community among the members of this group. “It gives us the opportunity to not only freely practice comedy but to tell our stories and resist the hegemony of mainstream comedy,” noted Curry. Indecent Exposure and Nitrous Oxide are just two of the various comedy troupes on campus. Whether one is interested in stand-up, sketchy comedy or a mix of both, Vassar surely has a group to fit anyone’s unique skill set and—more importantly—one’s identity.

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