Of Family and Funny: The Story of SJU Improv

By: Justin C. Russell

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How do you see your foundation when the top of the building crumbles? How do you feel pride when faced with disappointment and embarrassment? How do you remember the laughs when surrounded by silence?

It was a chilly January morning when the SJU Improv team was voted out in the first round of the National College Improv Tournament in Philadelphia. In a Shake Shack on Sansom Street, the rowdy group of performers ranging from sorority girls to Division 1 Athletes, sat reading the judges’ critiques. Despite a resounding response from the audience, the judges were looking for a more polished form of improv the team was not used to performing.

The anger and sadness were palpable in the restaurant. We sat and stared at our greasy food, which was somewhat symbolic of our attempt in the tournament. It was exciting to see and taste but by the time it was finished we felt overwhelmed and just downright sad. We made the audience laugh more than any group in our round, so where did we go wrong? What else could they want?

The true kicker was that we felt we were building ourselves up for something big. Going into the tournament everyone knew that SJU Improv was special. We sold out every show in the Perch, made so many of our classmates laugh, and became integrated into the culture of the school in just one year of existence. None of that mattered in the moment though, we were unsure of our mission, our egos were shaken, and our spirits were dampened.

So now the question arose for all of us, who are we and is this club still important? What makes all of it still worth it? Well this Friday, March 27th, we’ll be performing for over 150 SJU students, and raising money to fight Parkinsons, a disease that has affected the families of the members of our team, but our purpose is deeper than that. It’s all worth it for three reasons, funny, family, and Saint Joe’s.

Funny is like having another sense, it’s the doorway through which we experience joy. Funny has played a part in each of our lives. The thing about it that people always seem to forget is that it brings us together. For one minute or one hour, those performing it are always doing it for an audience. Unlike a concert or an arts exhibition, funny rarely requires an acquired taste. You know it, know how to react to it and that reaction fills a room with happiness.

Funny is something that everyone feels, and it’s deeply personal. It not only brings performers and an audience together, it also brought us as a team together and bound us to each other.

“My dad died when I was eight. Being that young and having to deal with something so difficult really made me mature quickly. I always had a sense of ‘Do the right thing, take care of the people who need it,’ because I didn’t have that main guy in my life to take care of me.

So I took it upon myself to make people smile, and laugh when they’re down. This goal became a passion. That’s why I have such an affinity for the Improv team. We get to make people laugh. When people are having a rough day, we can cheer them up for a few hours.”

–Jimmy Wyatt `17 – Performer

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Coming back to improv after our loss was hard, but we tried to keep in mind why we were all there. We remembered in November of the previous semester, we sat in a circle in team members Grace Kocubinski and Eileen Welsh’s apartment. Among the laughs, in-jokes, and food, we also shared our personal stories and our reasons as to why the improv club was so important to us. Jimmy’s story is distinct but we all shared the message. All of us have always felt the desire to make others laugh. Robin Williams often spoke about the ones who have been battered by the world, and how they are the ones that try to make people laugh the most, we found on that night that we are all built in this way. There’s a reason why laughter and crying are sometimes linked together.

Though we are all such different people, the purpose, motivation, and love that we share for funny is the same for all of us. Coming back to improv week after week is like our oasis. We all bask in each other’s company and although we juggle so many activities and responsibilities like RA, green fund, acting, baseball, greek life, etc. we always make improv our priority, because we want to be with our family, but that’s not our only mission.

“We went from basically 13 complete strangers to a family and I would do anything for all of them. I love this club and it has made my college experience. Having the ability to perform on stage and make people laugh is such a gift.”

–Scott Kenkelen `16 – Team Captain 

            What sets us apart from any other club is, we do what we do to make others laugh and to make Hawk Hill smile. The Improv club doesn’t build our resume, it won’t give us extra credit in class, it doesn’t give us a wide circle of “connections” outside of Saint Joe’s who can help us find jobs, it doesn’t get us in shape or make us money. In fact we lose time that could be spent doing all of those things to this club and directors of other activities scold us on account of the hours we miss for something that can be easily deemed “impractical.” Through it all, we still know improv is worth it, and it’s worth it because we bring joy.

So when you go to see the show on Friday (not a suggestion) and see Colin Mallee making a self deprecating remark, Chase Elliot grab someone’s private parts, Molly Ledbetter put on the accent of an eleven year old bully named Jenkins, Mike Rizzo shamelessly hitting on audience members, Grace Kocubinski acting like a terrified mother, Cory Blazer walking with the most realistic imaginary cane there is, Jimmy Wyatt delivering a joke that you don’t understand until ten seconds after he says it, or Scott and Scott delivering their classic “I am Scott, and I am also Scott” which, to audiences at least, never gets old. Remember that you, the students of 5600 City Avenue, are what make this complete. We exist because we want to make you smile. We exist because forty of you came out to see us lose in the first round of the tournament. If the loss in the tournament was the crushing disappointment that could have broken us, you all what Jesuits call, “The slow work of God” showing us that we are on the right track.

So whether it’s Friday, May, next year or in ten years, come out and raise a (symbolic) glass with us. Not to brag but we’re very good at being funny and we want to share it with you, and frankly we can’t do it without you.

“The one who truly deserves glory, is he who makes his companions laugh.”

–Scott Scherer `16 – Also Team Captain

Posted in: Events & Activities, Family & Friends, Music, Theater & the Arts, Student Life

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