Super Troupers: Emerson jokesters join forces

by Beacon Staff • October 3, 2007

When asked to think of one holiday in October, most minds would probably drift to candy corn and flying broomsticks. However, if you are a member of one of Emerson's many comedy troupes, your thoughts may flock to the obscure and overlooked holidays next month like Vegetarian Day, Boss's Day or even Teddy Roosevelt's Birthday.

At the upcoming Emerson All-Comedy Troupe Obscure Holiday Show tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. in the Cabaret, viewers can expect the unexpected in a whirlwind of student-run improvisational and sketch comedies based on the holidays most would miss.

"There's no telling how it's gonna end up," said Kelly McDermid, the president of Jimmy's Traveling All-Stars, which combines both live and taped sketch comedy.

The Obscure Holiday Show combines the efforts of Emerson's biggest comedy troupes: The Emerson Comedy Workshop, The Girlie Project, Jimmy's Traveling All-Stars, The Swolen Monkey Showcase, This is Pathetic and Chocolate Cake City.

"No one would come up with a holiday like 'Boss's Day' except for a boss," said Tallie Mendel, president of Emerson's only all-improv troupe, This is Pathetic. She said she was excited for the upcoming show.

"We didn't write what will happen beforehand and you literally might die from laughing," she said.

The goal of the performance is to shed some light on the strange and unfamiliar celebrations, while adding their own personal spin to the presentation.

At first, several troupe presidents said it was their alluring members that made their groups stand out, but these comedy troupes know there is more to making a crowd laugh than lying about their appearances.

"You'll see a story evolve that we have created and you'll die twice [from laughing]," said Mendel "And we're really good-looking."

Girlie Project president Alexis Schuette said the eclectic ensemble is the youngest and only all-girl comedy troupe at Emerson.

"We are an inappropriate, non-Greek sorority made up of a great group of women," Schuette said.

Although the group is currently all-female, membership is open to both men and women of all majors to create a diverse range of comedy sketches, monologues, films and dances.

"We love empowering women. They're great," Schuette said. It's usually been a men's sport and we try to degrade and humiliate men as much as possible."

The Emerson Comedy Workshop (ECW), the oldest group on campus, was founded by Emmy-award winning actor Denis Leary in 1976. They not only put the "orksho in workshop," but also present a sense of humor that current president Ilana Plen described as outside of the box.

"We're not afraid to try the things other people are afraid to try," said Plen. "We don't really censor ourselves."

In one of their shows last semester, two members recreated a scene from The Notebook while simulating sex with a cassette tape and a VCR.

"We're not gross all the time," Plen said. Comedian Eddie Brill, another famous ECW alum, is headlining "30 Years of Comedy at Emerson College" alongside Leary next Thursday in the Majestic.

The troupe has two main shows a year and also participates in combined performances similar to "The Obscure Holiday Show," such as the upcoming Halloween-themed performance on Oct. 30. They are also active participants in the Equity Fights Aids program, which works to raise money and awareness for AIDS victims.

"There are shows happening all the time and many people don't know about us," Plen said. "Come and see our shows!"

Chocolate Cake City (CCC), created by Emerson alum Rob Asaro in 2002, is known for treating its audiences-literally.

"We normally serve chocolate cake at our shows," said president Josephine Campbell. "We section off a little piece for everyone in the troupe before each performance."

According to its Web site, the tradition of serving sweets was inspired by Asaro's sister and her love of chocolate cake.

But CCC is known for more than its desserts. Campbell said they have become nationally and internationally known through original sketches and videos posted on YouTube. Their most popular video, Brokeback to the Future, is a combined parody of the well-known, Academy Award winning, man-on-man film Brokeback Mountain, and the 1985 sci-fi classic, Back to the Future. CCC has been recognized in publications and media sources such as the New York Times, MTV News, and ABC News-even inspiring a phrase in the online Urban Dictionary:

"1.brokeback to the future: an adjective used to describe closet homosexuality."

Despite its light-hearted jabs and clever parodies, CCC combines the efforts of actors, video, audio and writers to create what Campbell calls "really good, really smart comedy."

This is Pathetic is a long-form improvisational comedy troupe founded in the 1980s by then-Emersonians, now-celebrities like comedian Laura Kightlinger and actor David Cross. Mendel boasted that they are Emerson's only all improv/dance team.

"The joke is, you're coming to see an improv show and we dance," she said.

The Swolen Monkey Showcase, (Swomo), a spinoff of This is Pathetic performs original material throughout the year for Emerson as well as local comedy clubs.

President Dustin Straube expects "laughs, laughs and more laughs" from the upcoming show.

Jimmy's Traveling All-Stars is a sketch and video group that combines the voices of all of its members within each performance. Their goal, according to McDermid, is to play off of the audience and take the comedy a little farther at each show by combining technology and sketch performances to give something to every member of the audience.

Despite their differences and all healthy competition aside, the troupes hope to successfully join forces in Friday's performance.

"We've always wanted to do stuff together," said Campbell. "We're a really supportive community."