The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 64.0°F | Rain Fog/Mist and Breezy

Tech students let loose in ComedySportz, a new Boston improv



At Play It Again, Sam's,

1314 Commonwealth Ave., Boston.

Sundays at 6 pm (no show on Easter).


ABOUT THE ONLY DIFFERENCE between a night with ComedySportz and a night at the Boston Garden is that the crowd at Play It Again, Sam's doesn't break out into fights and get ejected from the premises.

What is "ComedySportz"? Well, words are almost incapable of describing it. If you're familiar with improvisational comedy, you're halfway there. Picture a non-stop barrage of improv games cast in a competitive setting with the audience providing comic material and judging assistance, and you've got the basic idea.

Nine performers, including MIT undergrads Joe Berghammer '91 and Erik Kay '92 (Kay did not perform the night of this review), are divided into two teams of four "actletes" each plus a referee. The competition, selected by the team captains from a diverse list of improvisational comedy exercises, pits various members of the two teams against one another in fast, audience-involved action. The list of games is so long that at a rate of five games a show, this troupe could easily go for a month or more without repetition.

The comedy pitched up ranges from the purely verbal to the almost totally physical. For example, "Storytelling" involved six of the eight actletes doing a rapid-fire narrative, switching storytellers with a flick of the referee's index finger. To make matters even wackier, each character adopted an audience-suggested trait, emotion, occupation, etc., with which to color his point of view. So, a dialogue switch between a stutterer and a biologist in a story entitled "Incas in Outer Space" might go, ". . .s-s-s-so the M-M-M-Martian took away all th-th-the [switch] POLYPEPTIDES! AND PUT THEM IN THE ELECTRON MICROSCOPE. . ."

"185" is a game featuring rapid-fire one-liners, all of which start out with "185 [whatevers] walk into a bar, and the bartender says, "Sorry, we don't serve [whatevers] here, and the 185 [whatevers] say, . . .". The blanks are filled by the audience, which also plays a heavy role in judging the gags. It's somewhat reminiscent of the now-defunct IAP Pun Contests of a few years back, and highly hit-or-miss, as one might expect.

More physical games include "Playwright" (actletes are moved by a controller into positions required to act out an audience-suggested scene), and "What Am I Doing" (one troupe member leaves the room, comes back, and tries to guess audience-suggested actions as mimed by his teammates -- "Licking a Kitten" was one suggestion). These are definitely the group's strong suit; their sight gags have a universal appeal.

The audience, made up primarily of BU and BC students, is charged with the duty of shouting out the names of locations, occupations, bizarre actions, and any other miscellany around which the actletes must base their efforts. Three audience members are appointed for judging team efforts in need of more impartial decisions. The teams are awarded points on a skit-by-skit basis, and the team with the most points at the end of the evening wins. Nobody really loses, of course, because everyone has so much fun.

Berghammer, a chemical engineering student from Milwaukee, is a powerful emoter, well-suited to improv comedy. He and his amazingly energetic and talented cohorts will be providing improv workshops on campus soon in addition to the weekly shows at Play It Again, Sam's. Thespians (and thespians at heart) roaming the corridors in search of a new venue take note: you just might discover your ideal form of self-expression here. At the very least, you'll catch a volley of cheap laughs -- admission is reduced from $5 to $2 with student ID.