As of Jan. 27, 2024, I, Paul Farias, am a professionally funny person. If you want to see my resume, refer to the recording of the Drama Department’s improv comedy show we don’t have. It’ll tell you a whole bunch of nothing, seeing as how it doesn’t exist (to my knowledge). Let me give you a low-down on my experience in Nathan Ray Clark’s improv comedy workshop and show.
The first day I showed up, I was a little late because I didn’t figure out where to go yet. Turns out we were going to the same theater that we were going to perform in on Saturday.
Drills were the focus of the day, as we spent most of the workshop doing warm-ups to build some synergy with one another. Along with these drills, Nathan had us pair up and find out some things we share in common. I was pointed to by one Roman Mendieta, someone who I’d say I got along with. Being called out by, up until this point, a complete stranger eased my nerves for the night.
We had tried out some games as well, including “Spelling Bee.” In short, five people were acting as one spelling bee contestant: spelling words one-by-one, giving definitions word-by-word, all that jazz. I tried it, but couldn’t get the hang of it. Misspelling, even if it’s funny, kind of cuts me deep, so I was fine with trying the other games out.
And try others we did! We played freeze tag, wherein a two-person scene could be interrupted by any of the improvisers, who, upon shouting “freeze,” would take one of the actors’ spots and start an entirely new scene from where the previous one left off. We tried several versions of the game and chose “screw your neighbor,” in which whoever calls “freeze” also calls for someone else to step into the scene.
After this first day, I thought I had found my footing in this little 15-strong group. I was ready take on whatever game had came my way, and there was nothing that would stop me.
With some newfound confidence and an idea of where to go, I was on time for Tuesday. By now, the introductions were out of the way and we could focus on the games.
The first game we did was Foreign Film Dub, wherein two performers would use gibberish to sort of act out a movie, but after every line a translator off to the side would put some English to their words. My confidence continued to rise, as I felt that I could put down some good lines as a translator. Then I got a reality check when I tried to make a line, as I froze hard when coming up with my first line. It didn’t get much easier onwards.
The second game we did was Four Square, wherein a literal rotating cast of four performers would be asked to act out a scene based on whoever was in front. I thought I was doing fine here, but soon I was hitting roadblocks and had trouble figuring out what to say next to advance the scene. It spelled trouble, and ultimately I wasn’t very eager to be involved in this one.
I had started to notice something by this time: there were some quality improvisers around me, and I was having trouble picking up the pieces they were putting down. Such was the start of some troubles that wouldn’t leave me.
I came into the Wednesday with some new information: a name for our group, that being “Whadja Call Me??” thanks to one Ethan Sullivan. I also came into it with a looming sense of being an outsider that kept nagging at me as time went on. We were introduced to one of the most difficult games of the show: Beastie Boy Rap Battle. It worked like this: eight players split into groups of four, with three acting as the one rapper’s crew. A one-syllable name initiated a rap battle that had the crew guessing the rapper’s rhyme one line at a time.
To say that this game was a doozy would be an understatement. Ultimately, some previous musical chops helped me get through a bar or two before I ended up drawing blanks as time went on.
The day’s other game wasn’t quite as hard. Blind Line took audience suggested lines and had them injected into a three-person scene via little slips of paper put into the improvisers’ pockets. This was about the time I started encountering issues with an inadequate volume, which ended up plaguing me for the next few days.
Before I made to Thursday’s session, I had attended a Safe Space Club meeting a couple hours before. To my surprise, most of the club’s members were also in Whadja Call Me?? as well. I killed some time with the fellow club members who made it early, and it helped me relax. Given the day’s agenda, I needed that easing up.
The first game on the docket, Good, Bad, Worse, had three improvisers pose as individuals of differing expertise in a subject, and would then answer audience-submitted questions that pertained to said subject. That relaxation earlier let me come up with solid responses from the bad position, though I felt they weren’t solid enough.
Two more games were had: Emotional Option, which saw Nathan choosing the emotion of which three improvisers would act out a scene through. I was constantly getting worried about not showing enough emotion and that quiet voice of mine, but luckily the scene I was in went off without a hitch.
The final game we tried out was World’s Worst, wherein players would step up and give examples of the worst examples of a given thing, whether be a doctor or a funeral attendee or any other audience suggestion. Again, my examples went over fine with this low voice of mine, but ultimately, the game just came and went.
With that, we had played every game. From now on we were getting into the thick of the show, merely preparing for Saturday instead of learning anything new.
I came into Friday with my spirits knocked down a peg. The aforementioned quiet voice and synergy worried me already, and now they would be put to the penultimate test.
Before we started though, I found myself getting a pep talk of sorts from a fellow improviser. Sure the talk itself may have lasted a minute, but I felt the impact up to this day.
Regardless, we ran through the whole show without an audience. The pace had picked up, and now the weight of the show was starting to come down on us, particularly those in the Beastie Boy Rap Battle camp. It was stressful but worthwhile, as it helped us work out some kinks in the original running order.
I had a hand in five of the nine games, and my brain was fried by the end of it. It felt like the funny had been drained from me and now I just a husk of the improviser that I was beforehand. That night, I got a good long sleep in preparation for the daunting show ahead of me.
I, along with many performers, made it rather early. There was plenty of chatter going around, and the warm-ups we had learned served to ease us up a little before we entered the Drama Building.
Once we did though, the unease was back and this time it was palpable. Lines being rehearsed over and over, plenty of idle chatter filled the green room, and a gracious run-through of the show by Nathan occupied the hour or so we had before showtime.
Before I knew it, the show had properly started. When I heard the crowd, I think I had just about lost feeling in my legs. At least that’s what it felt like when Nathan introduced Whadja Call Me?? to the crowd. But still, I went through the introduction and then watched in the wings as the first four games passed by. Soon enough though, I was in line with the cast for World’s Worst and I brought out some jokes that got laughs.
Nathan had stressed the importance of eye contact on everybody, and I think it rubbed off on me. I don’t think I ever looked at the audience during any of the games I played. Sure I had to look at them while getting suggestions for Blind Line, but outside of that I was fixated on the improvisers for Foreign Film Dub. Beastie Boy Rap Battle ended up being a lopsided victory on my team’s side, a far cry from the battles we had in the workshop. Finally, Freeze Tag went over without a hitch. Being randomly dropped into a scene with nothing in mind was kind of hard, but ultimately I powered through it.
Now it was finally over. After the show, I got a ride home. Before I left though, I heard that some improvisers were going out. I sheepishly asked to join the after party, which I ultimately did. It was a pleasant way to put a bow tie on the weeklong workshop.
The workshop and show were a worthwhile experience that I’ll be eagerly waiting to do again. I’d like to thank all parties involved in getting this off the ground, and I’d also like to thank the folks who helped me break the ice. Frankly, if it wasn’t for them, I don’t think I’d be looking on with nearly as positive of a light as I do now.