Between TikToks, online writing meetings and a Zoom standup show, Cornell’s comedy groups are trying to find humor in the age of lockdowns and social distancing.
But, this has proven difficult over the past month, as the lack of an in-person “writer’s room” has made it harder to come up with ideas for new sketches, satirical headlines and improvisational humor.
“A lot of the energy and silliness is lost when you’re staring at your friends over a screen and not in person,” said Izzy DiGiacomo ’20, president of Humor Us!, a sketch comedy group. “I’ve found it’s been hard for us to take inspiration from our daily lives and stay motivated to write when we’re all dealing with the struggles of stay-at-home orders.”
While Humor Us! is not putting out any new content right now, the group has continued to find humor off-campus as they play online games together and teach each other TikTok dances over Zoom. One member of the group, Darien Fiorino ’21, even hosted a Zoom standup comedy show.
Not every group has had to put their work on hiatus, however.
According to Ernest Bethe ’20, a writer for CU Nooz, a satirical news site, the process of collaborating has not changed much since the shift to virtual communication, with Zoom sessions replacing the usual in-person meetings.
Writers and editors would normally pitch headlines in their “poorly ventilated” meeting room in Goldwin Smith and do a “litmus test” by polling the other writers to determine which pitches were the funniest. Once they narrowed down the headlines they liked best, CU Nooz staffers then set out to write the stories.
However, CU Nooz has faced its share of difficulties stemming from online-only work, especially because they have to heavily rely on social media to gauge what topics readers would find humorous.
“When you’re on campus, there’s a whole lot more noise,” Bethe said. “Trying to find what would actually make people laugh and not just roll their eyes can be a little challenging.”
CU Nooz derives its humor from satirizing the “mundane happenings” on campus, depending on the ability to pick up on the “subtle nuances” of the college experience, Bethe said.
“Since moving online, not having that access to a campus of all of your peers essentially giving you new material to satirize [has been challenging],” Bethe said.
The completely remote semester has forced editors at CU Nooz to put more effort into coming up with pieces readers would find interesting and they’ve shifted to commentary on more widely covered events such as the debate over the ongoing code of conduct revisions.
Other comedy groups have found it difficult to come up with material virtually, saying that they miss the in-person aspect of bouncing ideas off each other.
“Comedy is definitely a team sport and we all bring something to the table,” said Spencer Blumenberg ’21, president of the Midnight Comedy Troupe, a sketch group focusing on taboo humor. “Whether we’re in a writing meeting or a rehearsal, it’s important that we can read the room and play off each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
Although the troupe holds weekly Zoom calls to check in on each other, the group currently does not consider coming up with new content a priority.
Blumenberg conceded that it was difficult to brainstorm sketch ideas without having everyone in the same room to bounce around dialogue, characters and scenes, even though he said there was no shortage of inspiration for dark comedy in the current climate.
Similarly, improvisational comedy groups like the Whistling Shrimp come up with all of its comedic material on the spot, so rather than a writing or brainstorming process, its preparation solely consists of practice.
Although the group has been able to keep in touch over Zoom, they have not been able to do much else, said Jocelyn Cubstead ’21, the group’s incoming director.
While they don’t know what the fall semester will look like or if in-person practices will be possible, the group remains determined to find a way to keep performing.
“Especially in these really scary and unsure times, comedy is more important than ever,” Cubstead said, “No matter what, all five of the comedy groups are going to work hard to make sure we are able to keep bringing laughter to Cornell’s community.”