A dive into ND’s student-run improv comedy group
The Humor Artists (HA), Notre Dame’s improv comedy group, are not certain when their club was founded—they haven’t let this stop them from celebrating many HA milestones, though.
Jake Neisewander, a senior and one of the club’s co-presidents, explained that in November 2017, the Humor Artists celebrated their “100th anniversary” by hosting their HAlumni show, for which many past Humor Artists’ graduates returned to perform alongside current Humor Artists. Ever in character, Neisewander suggested that this implied the club would probably turn 200 years old next year.
In a typical year, the Humor Artists present improv shows once a month at Legends and sketch shows once a semester at Washington Hall. In addition to their regularly scheduled performances, the Humor Artists will also put on shows for admitted students and at club events, as well as visiting dorms to increase their fan base. In their shows, the group will often take audience recommendations for non-geographical locations, relationships, and lines to start their scenes. In these moments, the members of the crowd consistently compete energetically for the host’s attention.
On Friday, October 23, the Humor Artists performed their “Nightmare Before Winter Session” sketch show in Washington Hall. While their typical shows are entirely improvised, for the sketch shows, each of the Humor Artists has the opportunity to write and direct their own sketches. The past sketch show included a deathly vacation to Lake Stab-a-lot, collegiate vampires of Notre Dame, Frankenstein’s Creature’s existential crisis at a Monsters Anonymous meeting, the Scooby Doo cast investigating a mystery, the purge, pumpkin spice slander, death-by-Outback-bloomin-onion, and a performance of the WAP.
The members of the Humor Artists span a wide range of majors and have representatives from every college at Notre Dame. In the beginning of the year, current Humor Artists teach potential members the fundamentals of improv in a multi-day “improv-101” training. The process culminates in an October audition show, after which the newest members are selected. Sometimes professional improvisers from Chicago visit practices and help guide the Humor Artists in sharpening their talent.
The key to successful improv, Neisewander declares, is not to get carried away, but to take the scene one step at a time. “The main thing we try to do in every scene is to forget about trying to be funny, and just focus on the relationships and the goofy philosophies of the characters in the scenes. If you do that, and if you’re really invested and supporting and trusting in your partner the comedy is just a natural result of that,” Neisewander said.
Neisewander added that improv is all about respect and appreciation for scene partners. “When you’re able to treat your partners as geniuses, and artists, and hilarious comics on stage, they usually end up being just that,” Neisewander said. In practice and on stage, the Humor Artists’ philosophy is to “always accept what your partner gives you as a gift,” which Neisewander says makes the club a safe space where members feel free to respond instinctively.
This year, Covid restrictions have caused the Humor Artists to adapt their scenes and perform in masks, but the resilient group continues to put on wildly entertaining shows. Unfortunately, social distancing requirements have decreased audience capacity. At the previous two shows, Legends and Washington Hall staff had to turn away dozens of fans.This is nothing new, though; even before the pandemic, the Humor Artists were selling out shows due to their campus popularity.
While the Humor Artists aim to entertain their audience, Neisewander explains that good improv requires more than just cracking jokes on stage. “The core of all improv games and scenes is trust and support, trying to make your partner look good, not being concerned about necessarily being the funniest person on stage. Just doing the best you can to have fun usually gives the best results,” he said.
It is hard to predict where the Humor Artists will take you in their imaginative shows, but wherever you end up, you’re sure to be laughing.
Sarah Kikel is a junior majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies and minoring in Sustainability. She is from Cleveland, Ohio, which she is proud to call the birthplace of rock and roll. She loves reading on God Quad and photoshopping her friends into funny photos.