“It’s Shrimp-er-ific, exclamation point, exclamation point,” exclaimed Teddy Goldsmith ’05, one of the newest members of the Whistling Shrimp, Cornell’s one and only improv comedy group, when speaking of his experience thus far with the Shrimp.
This Saturday night, the Whistling Shrimp will perform at 8 p.m. in Barnes Hall in the first of its two solo performances this semester. The name of this performance is “Pmirhs,” a spoof on the recent movie Memento, which played scenes backwards in an attempt to relay the main character’s short-term memory loss. Members of the Shrimp say that the title will have very little to do with the actual performance, except that they will be playing the backwards game.
Jen Weinbaum ’04 said that audience members can expect a lot of “high energy comedy — and all of it made up on the spot.”
In their performances, the ten-person group incorporates suggestions from the audience into set improvisation games. One example of this is the game “Gripes.” According to Colin Murchie ’02, the group’s director, in Gripes, eight Shrimp are given a gripe by the audience. Then they rant about those gripes, “trying to be as funny or witty as they can.”
Talking to the Shrimp at last Monday’s rehearsal, it was apparent that the group’s members have an extraordinary chemistry together. Grad Jonathan Makela ’99, director emeritus, said that when choosing new members the Shrimp look for “compatible personalities. [This is because] we spend a large portion of our life with the Shrimp.”
On average weeks, the Shrimp spend approximately eight hours a week in rehearsal and spend much of their free time together as well. Nick Ferina ’02, the group’s treasurer, quickly calculated, “That’s 120 hours a semester of practice … Not to mention all of the performances and the beer and the regret.”
Of course, they look for humor, too.
Judging from the rehearsal, they certainly found what they were looking for in this years new members, or newbies. Two newbies, Christina de Roos ’05 and Teddy, spoke about preparing for their first big performance at Cornell.
Christina feels she is finally comfortable doing improv on stage. “I’m starting to get excited and tell people about it,” she said. Before, she added, she would not tell her friends about the smaller Shrimp performances. Instead, she says, she would just “disappear” and her friends would have no idea where she had gone. “Now,” she added, “I’m just excited.”
Teddy says that he is really excited too, but also a little nervous. “I’m excited because I’m looking forward to being a part of such a talented group and I feel like this performance will solidify my joining the group.”
“One of the harder things [I’ve had to learn about is] not to laugh at each other on stage,” he added.
Always quick to the punch, Nick retorted, “That’s never a problem with Teddy.”
Jon, who is has been in the group for seven years, remembers what it was like to be a newbie. “The first couple of shows are always nerve-racking.” All of the members of the group have always been the funny person in their group of friends, he said. Now, they are performing for 250 people when “people are paying for you to make them laugh.”
According to Colin, the Whistling Shrimp were founded in 1984 to do improv and sketch comedy. In 1992, the group divided when some members decided that they only wanted to do sketch comedy. These deviants soon became the Skits-O-Phrenics. The result is the Whistling Shrimp we see today — all improv, all of the time.
The group’s chemistry and on-the-spot humor will certainly be apparent on Saturday night, when veteran Shrimp Grad Stefan Debbert, Colin, Jonathan, Jennifer, Kelley Burkett ’03, and Nick perform. This show will also feature the group’s three newbies: Christina, Teddy, and Bradley Werner ’02 (a Sun columnist).
“If going crazy for the public is wrong, then we don’t want to be right,” said Stefan. He concluded in an announcer voice, “Saturday, Saturday, Saturday at Barnes Hall arena.”
Archived article by Sara Katz