For most people, performing original material on stage in front of hundreds of people is incredibly intimidating, but for the comedians at GW, it’s what they love doing most.
GW’s comedy scene, which is on the rise now as students have readjusted to in-person campus life over the past year, has seen increased membership and the formulation of new groups, providing students a way to experience comedy at live campus performances and on social media. Student comedy groups have expanded sketch show production, organized training for improv performances and hosted sold-out live shows to connect with students and interact with audience members, all while drawing hundreds of viewers online.
Sophomore Amelia Magel – the senior producer of District Debrief, a sketch comedy show on GWTV – said the roughly 37-student team at District Debrief, which has grown exponentially compared to the six members they had in 2020, works together to pitch stories, write and film sketches and publish a monthly episode comprised of six to seven prerecorded sketches on GWTV.
“That’s probably my favorite part, the fact that so many different people can come together with different skills and make a good sketch,” Magel said.
Magel said District Debrief sketches satirize a wide range of topics relating to the average person’s “lived experiences” to relate to a wider audience at GW. Some recent sketches have poked fun at the conventions of online dating, the challenges of settling roommate disputes and incessant emailing from on-campus organizations.
“It’s really nice to be doing it at a school because you can take from the general culture,” Magel said. “People have so many experiences in common so you can just bring up any facet of the GW experience and make it into a sketch and it does hit a lot of the right points for the people.”
Junior Will Roberts, the executive producer of District Debrief, said the organization’s community is a “safe space” for anyone looking to be themselves and find their voice, where members can feel comfortable failing in front of each other. Roberts, who also does stand-up outside of District Debrief, said entertaining others during his comedic performances elicits one of the “best feelings in the world” and helps him stay positive in his personal life.
“I love being in a writer’s room,” Roberts said. “It’s one in the morning and we’re in SMPA in some room and we’re just trying to write the sketch and there’s like five of us in this sweaty room, and it’s just so nice to pitch ideas and bounce off the funniest people in the world.”
When it comes to live performances on campus, receSs – a sketch comedy and improv group at GW – hosts in-person shows for students, which consists of prewritten sketches, long improv and occasional stand-up. Long improv, which is signature to the group, involves the entire troupe of performers onstage together attempting to sustain an improvised scene for as long as possible. Senior Aman Gill, the group’s president, said the troupe starts with a concept from the audience and then builds the scene with the performers rotating and changing the plot.
Gill said the group, which she said first formed in 1990, performs once a month for students and has performed two shows so far this semester, both held in the University Student Center Continental Ballroom. She said the group sold out their September show, with about 100 students in attendance.
The October show featured two new freshman performers, bringing the group to a total of seven members.
“I think that people are very aware that we’re building something and that we’re there to make people laugh and make people smile and get that little weight off their shoulders and have them forget about the tests they just bombed,” Gill said. “And I think we do a really good job of that.”
receSs spends the entire month before a show writing sketches and practicing trust-building exercises, like trust falls, to help strengthen their collaboration onstage. Every group member writes a sketch and senior group members select the strongest for performance, and the group also plays improv games at meetings to practice quick thinking.
Gill said receSs holds performances as often as they did before the pandemic, but rebuilding the community of students who consistently come to shows is something the group is working toward now. The group’s next show is slated for Nov. 11 in the USC Continental Ballroom, and tickets are $3 with doors opening at 10 p.m.
Junior Margaret Korinek created GW Comedy Nights, a new stand-up comedy group, at the beginning of the semester, which held its first performance ever in September at the Lisner Downstage, located in the basement of the auditorium. The show featured 10 comics, including Korinek, who headlined and closed the show. Korinek, who also serves as director for the shows, said about 220 students attended, exceeding student turnout expectations.
“It was eye-opening to see just how many students are not only interested in being a part of the comedy scene, but also students who are willing to come and support their peers who they don’t necessarily know and see stand-up and see comedy on campus,” Korinek said.
Korinek prioritized creating an inclusive group with students from a variety of backgrounds and experience levels, given her past experience performing as the only woman in comedy show lineups at GW and D.C. open mics. Korinek said the group offers lineups that reflect campus diversity, which enhances the quality of the shows.
“It was pretty common for me to be the only girl in the lineup,” Korinek said.
The group has two preparation meetings before a show where comics can test material and receive feedback from other members about delivering and writing effective jokes. Korinek hopes these meetings build a connection between performers and better their understanding of what makes something funny.
The group’s next show is Dec. 9 at 8 p.m. in the Lisner Downstage theater, and tickets will cost $3.
Freshman Frances Laufer, who is new to comedy, performed in the Comedy Nights’ show last month after finding their Instagram page. She said she’s looking forward to feeling the rush of performing again in the Dec. 9 show.
“Going on stage it’s just like adrenaline, like a serotonin boost, and then coming off it’s just like that relief of like, ah, done,” she said.
Laufer said the environment is incredibly supportive, and she was proud of herself for going through with the performance despite her nerves.
“I really do encourage, even if people are scared to do it, our group is here to support them and make sure they’re comfortable,” Laufer said.