First annual Comedy Festival brings laughs to campus

Third Wheel Improv (above) was one of the visiting groups that performed in this past weekend’s first annual Comedy Festival. Photo courtesy of Chris D’Silva.

Amidst midterms and sky-high stress, there is no better way to cheer up than by watching live comedy. The first annual Williams College Comedy Festival took place this past weekend. The two-part event kicked off with stand-up comedy on Friday in Perry House’s Goat Room and ended with a bang with improv comedy on Saturday Currier Hall’s ballroom.

Pitched as performances including “only the brightest and weirdest minds this campus has to offer,” the Festival came together through coincidentally perfect timing and a large collaborative effort. “Treestyle and Combo Za each invited improv groups from other colleges to perform on the same night without realizing it,” Treestyle member Rob Hefferon ’18 said. “When we found out, Chris D’Silva [’18] brought up the point that, rather than try to host different shows on the same night and cannibalize each other’s crowds, we should make it a whole event. And after hemming and hawing over the name, the Williams College Comedy Festival was born. When the stand-up show … had to be moved to [Friday], it really became a festival.”

D’Silva, a member of Combo Za, humorously added, “Thus, the First Annual Williams College Comedy Festival was accidentally conceived.” Hefferon added that he hopes the Festival becomes an annual tradition.

In the weeks leading up to the Festival, there was a buzz of anticipation in the air, but the practice schedules for the College’s improv groups stayed consistent with what they are like throughout the semester. “We prepared the same way we would for any show, by running through the games we were planning on playing during the show for a week or so before the show,” Hefferon said. “Now, we’ve got a bunch of new exercises to try out over the next weeks and months.”

Combo Za and the PAC, the College’s sketch comedy group, took a similar approach. “For improv, we just stuck to our normal practice schedule and did a huge warm-up with all four groups on the day of the show,” D’Silva said. “For stand-up, TJ Nykorchuck [’20] ran workshops the week before the show to help comics develop their sets.”

The Festival also included performances from other colleges’ improv comedy groups, namely Third Wheel Improv from Columbia and Awkward Kids Talking (AKT) from Skidmore. Collaborating with groups from different colleges both strengthened the sense of community among these comedians and provided an opportunity for the exchange of tips and tricks of the trade.

“It was great! AKT and Third Wheel are both awesome groups, and it was cool to learn about the different ways that they practice and perform,” D’Silva said. “It [is] also just a lot of fun to party with people from other schools, but I feel like everyone knows that.”

Hefferon echoed the sentiment. “Treestyle hosted AKT last year, so it was nice to see a lot of them back again,” he said. “We got a chance to practice together and share improv forms, games and warm-ups. Both AKT and Treestyle are younger groups, so it is cool to see the ways in which our experiences have been similar or different.”

Both  Hefferon and D’Silva expressed an interest in exploring not only the similarities, but also the differences between the various improv groups, such as ideas about how to improvise and what is comedic. For D’Silva, it was the differing details at the margins that captured some of the fun in performing together. “We all kind of came from the same general school of improv,” he said.  “The differences become more about the ways that individual performers interact with each other and how performing for different audiences influences the premises and ideas you gravitate toward. It’s always a ton of fun seeing how much different groups can vary.”

Evidently, the stream of rehearsals and preparations beforehand paid off. Opening night was a smashing success, with an energetic atmosphere and a high-spirited audience. The stand-up comedy show provided endless amounts of fun, entertainment and warmth on a particularly chilly Friday night. The audience’s responses ranged from light chuckling to literal laughing out loud. Single lines that were particularly spot-on elicited a mixture of stamping feet, clapping hands and snapping fingers.

While it is impossible to predict the course of show business, there were, luckily, “no major snafus,” Hefferon said. Funded by the Office of Student Life and the Entertainment Committee, the Festival even had a shrimp cocktail bar. Over the course of the two nights, the performers offered their best wit for hours on end, feeling encouraged by the audience’s engagement.

“It was a lot of comedy,” Hefferon admitted. “I was personally exhausted by the end, but the audiences, to their credit, stayed lively the whole time.”

Saturday night had a similar atmosphere. The improv show was chock-full of sassy wit and snappy banter. The performers played off of each other’s spontaneous characters seamlessly – two seconds into an improv game, someone would have already picked up on a story thread that would continue as an inside joke for the rest of the night. Throughout the evening, performers created storylines that started with hilarity and ended in hysterics.

In their reflections after the Festival, Hefferon and D’Silva both found the weekend rewarding and expressed enthusiasm for what’s around the corner.

“Starting something new is always super exciting,” D’Silva said. “Julia Cochran [’19] and Evelyn Elgart [’19] are Za and PAC members abroad, but they have already started talking about their plans for next year, which might involve inviting professional comedians, including some alumni, to perform and give workshops. It was also great hearing from a lot of new stand-ups on Friday.”

“It was really fun to hang out with such creative, high energy people and to see the comedy scene at Williams [that] has really taken shape over the last few years kind of culminating in this festival,” Hefferon added. “I’m excited to see what this festival might turn into in the future.”

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