When asked what they’re most eager about in regard to the upcoming Skidmore Comfest, sophomore Justin Cordua of This is Pathetic joked that troupe member Brendan Mulally is most excited for the ladies.
“One hundred percent, I’m hoping to get with some biddies,” the freshman performing arts major said. “Or not. I respect women. You can put that on the record.”
Jokes aside, both Emerson comedy troupes This is Pathetic and Chocolate Cake City are in the midst of preparing for one of the biggest college comedy festivals of the year, held at Skidmore College Feb. 7-8. This is the festival’s 25th anniversary, and over the years, comedians who have performed at the event have gone on to work on television shows such as The Office and Community and on films like Our Idiot Brother.
The lineup of college comedy troupes that will be performing at the festival includes Boston University’s Slow Children at Play, Cornell’s The Whistling Shrimp, Yale’s The Purple Crayon, and NYU’s Hammerkatz. Though the event is not inherently a competition, former Comfest attendee and actor Jason Mantzoukas, who had a role in Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie The Dictator, has been quoted by the New York Times as saying that during parties that took place before and after the day’s events, “Everyone was doing bits, trying to see whose were better.”
This is Pathetic has performed at the festival for over three years now, and this year, will be following Hammerkatz’s set. Hammerkatz has produced comedians that have gone on to work for The Onion, Comedy Central, Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, Community, Workaholics, and How I Met Your Mother. Though troupes perform for the chance to show off their comedic bits rather than for a title, Cordua said that a standing ovation is key: that’s how you establish your reputation at the festival.
“If you succeed at Skidmore, that means people that do comedy think you’re funny,” the visual and media arts major said. “I feel like we have to match the energy of whatever [Hammerkatz is] bringing. It would be weird if Hammerkatz came on and did a bunch of hilarious sketches, and then This is Pathetic comes on and we tank. That would be the worst thing I can imagine.”
According to member Patrick Braley, This is Pathetic’s sets have been received with much positive support in the past.
“We actually have a bit of a reputation — people really like us over there, and we’re generally known as the troupe who does the mono scenes,” the junior visual and media arts major said, in reference to the fact that This is Pathetic is a long-form improvisational troupe that can spend anywhere from five to 30 minutes on a single scene. “We’ve generally gotten really good feedback. Coming to Skidmore as This is Pathetic, how I always describe it to people, is that it feels like being the football team after you’ve just won the game and you’re going to the party afterwards. They really like us over there, and I don’t know why.”
Mulally has one semester’s worth of experience on the troupe, while Cordua and sophomore Amanda Breen have been on the troupe for two semesters. As a relatively new troupe together, Breen said the prospect of performing at Skidmore with such a reputation is intimidating.
“It is a chance for us to prove ourselves, but I think we’ve taken every show as a new opportunity to prove ourselves,” the visual and media arts major said. “We just try to keep getting better, and Skidmore is our chance to prove ourselves to people outside Emerson.”
Similarly, Chocolate Cake City is facing some expectations — but for them, this is because this will be the first time the group is performing at Skidmore. The troupe’s new president Allie Wittner, a sophomore performing arts major, is in the process of signing forms, arranging transportation, and looking for material that the troupe can be “excited about.” Chocolate Cake City recently lost three of their senior writers to the Los Angeles program, allowing for some new material for its trip to the festival.
“I’m very excited because I think we will have a much different voice after losing the three people that we did,” Wittner said. “They all had a distinct voice. I don’t think our style will be too different — I’m in the process of writing sketches now and I can hear how I’ve been influenced by past members. But we have a lot of opportunity to grow and see where we can go.”
Chocolate Cake City is currently looking to come up with new sketches for the trip that stay true to its shtick, which freshman member Magi Calcagne, a visual and media arts major, describes as “more abstract” and “weird, but fun.” Wittner said that they aim for humor that can be momentarily uncomfortable, and that takes a second to fully understand.
Meanwhile, seeing as they’re an improv troupe and not a sketch troupe, This is Pathetic is practicing how to do a long-form scene in the mere 15 minutes that their set allots.
“Our whole style of improv involves really slowing things down and taking time to go into all the nuances of a story, and with only 15 minutes on stage, we can’t necessarily do that,” Cordua said. “Either we can go into the nuances and it has to be an open and shut story, or we can tell a long story but we have to keep things moving very fast.”
Though both troupes will be performing, they’ll also be attending conferences, performances by professionals like UCB All-Stars of Improv, and parties where they can try to one-up each other’s comedic bits. And when asked seriously what he’s excited for about Skidmore, Mulally said it’s all about getting to spend time as a comedian with other comedians.
“It’s a chance to show off to other people who don’t know our skills and talents,” he said, “but also to hang out with like-minded people.”