September 27, 2004

Laugh Out Loud

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If you are overburdened with work and in need of something to cheer you up, look no further than Cornell’s two comedy groups, the Skits-O-Phrenics and The Whistling Shrimp.

The Skits specialize in sketch comedy, where the scenes are written out and planned in advance. The Shrimp, however, deal exclusively in improvisational comedy, in which everything is thought up on the spot. Despite these differences, both groups agree on one thing:

“We give you something other than a capella,” said Jason Chlipala ’06, of the Skits.

Both the Skits and the Shrimp hold auditions for new members at the beginning of the year and perform one to two original shows a semester.

“They have to be able to do wacky things on stage without getting embarrassed,” explained Christina de Roos ’05, president of the Shrimp, on what they look for in prospective members.

“Basically, we hope they have all the organs humans should have. Showing up is good too,” added Ben Mauk, ’07.

When asked individually whether or not being funny is something that can be learned, both groups had a lot to share.

Most of the Skits agreed that training only helps if someone is funny to begin with.

“You gotta have something there beforehand,” said Sean Spagnoli ’05, president of the Skits. “You don’t need experience writing though. There is a huge development process involved in being funny,” he added.

“You pretty much have to be shunned as a child to be funny,” joked Bill Kenkel ’06, of the Skits.

“I agree with Bill, I think all comedy comes from pain,” added Ben Furnas ’06, another Skits member.

However, while the Shrimps think that a sense of humor can not be taught, they believe that comedy can be learned.

“You can learn about comedy — things like timing and delivery,” de Roos said. “You can have very funny thoughts but still communicate them poorly,” she added.

“You can also develop characters and learn how to interact with people on a stage,” commented Abbe Yale ’08, of the Shrimp.

Many of the members of both groups have had some sort of experience in performing. Most participated in theater during high school, while a handful of the Shrimps have been involved in improvisation before.

On whether “being funny” is something that can be turned on and off, the Skits adamantly agreed that being funny all the time would be painful.

“It’s not something that’s always on. It’s like turbo in NBA Jam — it runs out,” said Matt Tompkins ’05, of the Skits.

However, in response to the same question, the Shrimps responded quite differently.

Jenni Diaz ’06 believes that being funny is something that “is never off.” “Comedy isn’t separate from life — it’s the same stuff,” added Peter Sherman ’07.

Both the Skits and the Shrimp have found that being a part of a comedy group positively affects other aspects of their lives. Troupe members improve public-speaking skills, lose inhibitions and gain confidence.

“And it really helps your laser vision,” Chlipala joked.

Both the Skits and the Shrimp are proud of their statuses as the only comedic groups on campus. In the early ’90s, though, there was only one comedy group at Cornell — The Whistling Shrimp.

Some members of the original Shrimps, which did only improv, wanted to branch out and perform sketch comedy. In 1992, they formed a new sketch comedy group which they dubbed the Skits-0-Phrenics.

“We’re not in direct competition with the Skits. Our groups are both in totally different worlds,” Mauk said.

Prof. Wolfgang Sachse, theoretical and applied mechanics, faculty advisor to The Whistling Shrimp, encouraged all students to take a break from their academic lives and go see a performance.

“I very strongly believe that student groups like this are good for students,” Sachse said. “I have a standing offer to anyone who knows me — the first five people to show up at a Shrimp show and mention my name, I’ll pay for their tickets,” he added.

The Skits-O-Phrenics, who have a show coming up in mid-November, think students need to get out and laugh.

“You might have fun,” Furnas said.

The Whistling Shrimp will be performing on Oct. 16th in Barnes Hall.

Archived article by Dennis Dunegan
Sun Contributor