In one of Coffman Union’s dull fluorescent-lit rooms, 14 amateur student performers gather each week for the sake of comedy. Thriving in the mundane spaces normally used for study groups, the improv troupe transforms the ordinary into the surreal through rapid-fire wit in the same vein as “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”
“What can we do in two lines?” Brian Johnson, one of MinnProv’s senior members, asked the group on the night of their first practice, intending to hear a suggestion for another ad-libbing activity.
“Cocaine,” one member answered.
MinnProv’s comedic principles value quick thinking without hesitation, something senior member Zach Sperry saw off the bat in Johnson’s improv style.
“We see this guy come in; he’s never done it before, and his first entrance is he kicks in a door with his signature noise,” Sperry said. Imitating the door-busting scenario, Johnson launches into a foul-mouthed cigarette-smoking teacher addressing an invisible classroom:
“Sit down and shut up,” Johnson said, “Now where are my Marlboro’s?”
MinnProv formed four years ago after a group of high school friends gathered for the sole improvisational comedy group on campus. With many members graduated and performing elsewhere, the newest iteration of MinnProv hosts a frenetic collection of freshmen and newbies all trying their hand in parodies of Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” or Beastie Boys-style rapping.
The evening’s improv games, modeled after ComedySportz-style, fast-paced humor, became progressively more bizarre. In one activity, a routine like making the bed becomes fodder for increasingly strange interpretations and non-sequiturs, as dueling members keep spouting, “try that on for size.” Every exercise serves as another building block in learning fellow cast members’ comedic approach. MinnProv practices in anticipation of their upcoming performances at the Whole Music Club, but hopes to bring their fast-paced bonanza to other venues too.
“By the end of the semester we’ll know who does the best where. That’s what we’re learning,” Johnson said. “We pick them for a reason; there was something that they have that we think can contribute to the group.”
Collaboration is essential in a given scene, something MinnProv senior member Lauren Shibley looks for in prospective members.
“Not even necessarily [someone] who’s the best, who’s the funniest person,” Shibley said. “But who’s somebody that we can grow with?”
The first meeting represented the group’s experiments in learning each other’s niches in humor. Members must attempt to adjust to the personalities and strong points of their fellow ad-libbers in a given scene.
“You’ve got to have some respect for the art form,” Johnson said. “Even though we goof around, swear, make crude jokes — there is an art to this.”
Not all the jokes land in a punchy, overtly funny way. Some members play support in scenes where one character’s presence dominates the plot.
“If you have three loud people, you got nothing,” second-year member Marissa Murphy said. “It’s just going to be screaming all the time.”
Hesitation and pauses drain a scene’s energy, so MinnProv members also learn to “fall funny.” The “Beastie Rap” game features supporting members punctuating rhyming verses for a leading lyricist, but not all of the rhymes flow so easily. That’s when members learn to admit defeat. Member Lauren Shibley recalled a past member’s triumphant exits.
Screaming, “Oh my God — my wife is having a baby,” the former MinnProv player would dramatically flee the room, Shibley explained.
A diverse range of interests form the core of MinnProv, a group made up of science and engineering students alongside theater majors. Hydrogen peroxide-related jokes alongside scatological humor peppered the group’s first practice.
“There’s also the people who know all the pop culture references, the people who know a lot of history,” Shibley said. “I mean everybody has something to contribute.”
“You know what to expect,” she said, “and you also don’t know what to expect.”
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