Putting the “me” in comedy: Improv jam develops skills

by Thea Byrd / Beacon Staff • September 11, 2014

Students queued up in front of the door of the Multipurpose Room, waiting in the slow-moving line to get in for the inaugural Improv Jam last Thursday evening. Each person wrote their name down, to be called up on stage and practice their improv skills with members of Emerson’s comedy groups.

 The event is for students wanting to develop improv skills. It will be held monthly throughout the semester, according to its organizer, junior Justin Cordua.

Cordua, a visual and media arts major, began the event with an introduction to improv basics, explaining a few common principles, then jumped right in, calling up audience members to try it out for themselves. About 30 of the 40 attendees participated in scenes, most of whom were new to improv.

 Three other improvisers from various campus comedy clubs assisted Cordua in leading the event. The four of them appeared in each of the six ten-minute sessions, for which they also brought up five attendees to improv with them.

“I wanted to give people an opportunity to practice on campus with people who will support them and laugh at their jokes, because all you need to [get into improv] is that initial spark, and then from there you can kind of run with it,” said Cordua, a member of campus improv group This Is Pathetic.

 For each 10-minute session, an audience member would shout out a word, which inspired the first scene. The comedians would have to begin their scene with a situation that related to that word. Then, the improvisers—both the experienced ones and those picked from the audience—were free to begin, end, enter, and leave scenes.

“I give props to anyone who came up, because, if this was when I was a freshman, I would maybe have come to see this but there’s no way I would have come up on stage,” Cordua said. “When I first started, I was awful, and terrified. Just by going up you’re already a great person, in my mind.”

 The experienced performers from various troupes on campus who assisted Cordua said they were also very impressed by the participants.

 “A lot of people were taking risks, which always makes everything more fun,” said Isabella Boettcher, a sophomore visual and media arts major and member of Swolen Monkey Showcase.

 Some of the more outlandish scenes that the comedians created during the event involved kids at summer camp with schizophrenia, a performer stripping down to his boxers in the middle of a scene, and lots of grotesque murder mysteries.

 “We were just saying yes, and we were going with it, because it became a part of the world we were in and the scene, so it ended up making sense even if anything was little wild,” said Boettcher.

Another experienced improviser, Amanda Breen, who is also part of This Is Pathetic, agreed the event provided a positive atmosphere to try new things.

 “It’s a great environment here, because it’s a crowd of people who haven’t done it, so obviously they’re supporting the students who have no idea what this is,” said Breen, a junior visual and media arts major. “It’s a really cool, judgment-free zone.”

 Breen and Boettcher both also said they thought it was a great learning experience not only for the newer participants but also for themselves.

 “Tonight, I saw things that people are doing, that I’m like, ‘That’s such a smart move, I love that they went there,’ and it’s people that have never done it and that’s a really cool thing for us,” Breen said.

Cordua, Breen, and Boettcher said they were excited about the night’s success, and Cordua said he is considering holding a longer introductory improv workshop in addition to Improv Jam at the next monthly event.

 “I just want it to be a fun thing for everyone,” Cordua said. “I really enjoyed the mix of experience and that fresh approach tonight, and I want to continue that. I don’t want to exclude anyone from this at all.”




Lifestyle editor Anna Buckley, roommate of Justin Cordua, did not contribute to this article.