How to Make Nothing of Substance and Have Fun Doing it, or Improv

Calapalooza 2014: a very tall but very friendly man leans across a table and asks me a clarifying question. He puts it bluntly, “are you interested in just watching improv or do you want to do improv too?” I tell him “both.”

Me using improv as an excuse to get an amazing head massage, Spring 2017

I’m happy to say I have been doing both the whole three years since then. That tall man was Derrek, who has since become a teammate, mentor, and dear friend. The table was for jericho! improv & sketch comedy which also became my de facto Cal family. jericho! which in our more flippant moments we like to call j! meets twice a week and performs every other Friday on campus (usually in the bottom floor of moffit, but not always). We do improv, write and perform live sketches and also creative digital shorts for our youtube channel. We love all of it just as much as we love each other.

jericho! perorming at USC’s “Fracas” improv festival, Spring 2017

Alice (c/o ’15) and I getting ready to shoot a silly video in Sproul, Spring 2015

I’ve been doing improv since I was in middle school, though not at the caliber I now work with my teammates. But never the less years of exposure to various improv communities have taught me one important lesson, improv or rather theater at large will introduce you to both the best most unbelievably awesome and worst most unbearable people you’ll ever meet. Thankfully, jericho, and the Cal improv community at large has almost exclusively the former. In fact, it seems joining this group has introduced me to some of the best, most exciting people I may ever meet—not just at Cal but at Davis, Santa Cruz, USC and Cal Poly as well.

A photo we took when we won a Daily Cal ‘Best of’ thing, Spring 2017

I suppose this is on the mind because as I write this jericho! is preparing to host our annual inter-collegiate improv festival here on campus over the long weekend. We’re expecting to host teams from Davis, Santa Cruz, USC, Cal Poly, Santa Barbara, and yes even the “SIMPS” (Stanford Improvisors) from the Leland Stanford Junior College.

“Improv du Jour,” or IDJ for short, is a festival founded by jericho! alumn Cody Reiss (c/o ’14) and gear towards a community oriented grass-roots type approach to improv education and practice. We mix teams up for the weekend into workshop groups where we teach each other new long form improv formats, discuss our different performance styles, and most importantly get to know each other. IDJ has expanded my ideas about what improv comedy and performing can be and well as introduced me to a state wide community of people who love what I love. Most importantly it’s always been a celebration of each other and our diverse approaches to performance rather than a ‘professional’ or competitive type conference.

This is from my first IDJ, Sara from Davis taught us “The Taratino,” Fall 2017

Derrek and I having a little chat at IDJ 2014

This coming semester I’m excited to finally step up and teach my own workshop. I’ll be teaching the monoscene, as in ‘one scene;’ it’s essentially an improvised one-act play set in one location with as many entrances and exits as you like but no scene changes whatsoever. Thankfully I’ve got about three different Alumni to text for pointers and tips from their experience in previous years. In my last year on the team, as I look back with gratitude, I’m reminded of the saying that gets passed on from alumni to new graduates each year: The current team may always stay the size but us, the alumni, we keep getting bigger. Its certainly true.

A few j’s BARTed into SF to compete in an improv Cage Match Spring ’15 (and we won this pig thing!)

Because I joined jericho! my freshman year the team has been central to if not completely synonymous with my college experience, and now in the midst of my last year here I, as one is want to do, am feeling quite nostalgic and downright emotional at the prospect of leaving the team. It was, after all, my first portal into performance as a regularized practice—something casual rather than stressful or nerve-wracking. With j! fun has always come first my family of teammates have made the last four years impossibly joyful.