It’s not unusual to see kids on stage acting, dancing, playing instruments or singing. But thanks to outfits like ComedySportz, young people can now seize the spotlight to do anything they can think of to get a laugh.
ComedySportz is an improvisational comedy group located in downtown Indianapolis. It runs a high school league in which teams from different schools compete for laughs. Matches are between ComedySportz teams of two schools, with one team travelling to the other’s campus. Referees from the professional group run the matches. The referee selects several games from a set list but announces each to the teams with little or no time for preparation.
Cathedral High School offers ComedySportz as an extracurricular activity. Thomas Graham, 18, Ellen Lee, 17, and Ellen Turner, 17, are a few of their actletes — combination actor/athletes. While each had a different reason for joining the team, they all say it’s one of their most enjoyable activities.
“I actually got into ComedySportz because my theater director told me that I had to try out, which sounds really weird. But it is actually one of the coolest experiences. I love this, it’s a lot of fun,” said Lee.
According to the students, ComedySportz matches have little in common with stand-up comedy. “Stand-up comedians go up there and they have like a sketch of whatever they’re going to talk about. We’re doing scenes totally based on what the audience throws at us, and we hope that us trying to stumble through whatever we are trying to do will entertain them in some way,” Turner said.
One of Turner’s favorite ComedySportz games is called fairytale countdown. “The game gradually speeds up faster and faster, and the audience just gets so into it and they’re like cheering so loudly by the end,” she said.
All games actively involve audience members. The referee often requests subjects for the teams to base their skits around, and the crowd complies by yelling out suggestions, such as famous figures or places. Audience members also determine the winner.
The students love the fast pace of ComedySportz. “We come up with things on the spot and we make it work,” Graham said.
It isn’t always easy, though, as the actletes can often find themselves with nothing to say in front of the crowd. “It’s hard to come up with jokes on the spot, so I just try to put myself out there and hopefully if I act like enough of an idiot, something that comes out of my mouth will make somebody laugh,” said Turner. “That’s pretty much my strategy there.”
Graham added, “When I can’t think of anything, I say what comes to mind. That’s one of the things of improv, never stop talking . … You don’t want to get up on stage and stand there like a statue because no audience is going to want to watch that.”
ComedySportz aims to be a family friendly show, so actletes have to make sure that nothing they say is offensive to the audience. To reinforce this rule, the referees can choose to place penalties and fouls on the actletes. “Brown bag foul is basically you lose like five points and they put a bag over your head that you have to wear the rest of the game. It’s kind of a way to keep actletes in check,” said Graham. “It’s frowned upon in a lot of cases if you say something that’s racially offensive, sexual, not age-appropriate.”
The actletes realize that some audience members might cut them some slack because of their youth. “The audience doesn’t really expect it, coming from us, because we’re just a bunch of teenagers, you know, thrown up on a stage,” said Turner.
Still, comedy can be stressful, they said. Each of them has extensive theater experience and rarely feels nervous anymore. However, they do understand the problems that others may have. “For kids especially our age, it’s difficult for people to come out of their shell, especially because they’re being judged by all their peers and you don’t know how people are going to react,” said Lee.
Though the actletes agree that comedy is fun, none plans to make a career out of it. “I am more interested in other aspects of theater, but I think that my comedy training will really help me there,” said Turner.
Comedy does have other benefits, they said, especially in their social lives. “It’s made me more comfortable talking to people who I don’t know that well,” said Turner.
The best thing, though, is making people laugh. “I like to think that if I can make it through a day and make someone smile or smile myself, it’s all kind of rewarding,” Lee said.
“My strategy is never to take myself that seriously -- you won’t get very far in life if you can’t laugh at yourself.”
Contributing to this story were assistant editors Max Gabovitch, 16, and Arpeet Patel, 16, and reporters Sameer Kumar, 12, Patrick Naremore, 11 and Izabella Robinson, 11.
Copryright 2010 Y-Press