This past weekend, NYU’s longest-running improv group, Dangerbox, competed at the College Improv Tournament’s 10th Annual National Competition in Chicago. Placing second in its regional category, Dangerbox is currently one of the top 10 college improv groups in the country.
The team consists of Steinhardt freshman Jordan Bialik, Tisch senior Taryn Cohen, Tisch junior Liz Demmon, Tisch senior Jacob Dysart, Steinhardt sophomore Isaiah Hazzard, Tisch junior Mahayla Laurence, Tisch sophomore Malik Marshall, Gallatin sophomore Chloe Troast and Tisch senior Jamie Watson.
Comedy itself is a nebulous concept. For those who don’t practice it, the idea of sitting down to write funny jokes and then executing them seems borderline impossible. But what about performing comedy without any planning? What if, instead of preparing these jokes beforehand, you needed to go up on stage and make a crowd laugh with no preparation — relying on only a handful of suggestions from the audience?
Dangerbox has mastered this technical and intricate art — one that requires as much strategy as any sport. Meeting weekly on Tuesday nights, the group practices endlessly, running through various set-ups in order to hone their skills. To sharpen their abilities, Dangerbox members often practice “scenarios,” two-person character performances centered around situations like losing an engagement ring. Another exercise called “info desk” calls on members to act as if they are working a receptionist desk located in a random location, like the White House, for 15 minutes.
Following each exercise, the team discusses what went right and wrong to fine-tune their approach to and execution of scenes. Much like any sport or artistic medium, improv has its own intricate language, giving shape to endless possibilities.
Dangerbox explained that vocabulary is not universal for improv comedians.
“There are some pretty different schools of thought about how to teach improv,” Watson said.
The one consistent concept throughout improv technique is called “yes and.” This technique teaches comics that they must accept whatever a teammate brings to a scene and build upon it — and never say “no” in a sketch.
For Dangerbox, there are many skills necessary to practice improv. These skills include not freezing up during a scene, leaving behind inhibitions and having a positive attitude. But the most important skills to have during a performance are teamwork and communication. According to Dangerbox, the key to success over the years has been the team itself.
“[Our team] is always a tight group of friends,” Watson said. “We’ve become such a family over time.” At auditions, Dangerbox is not always looking for the funniest comics, but those people that they, “really want to hang out with.”
But what drives the desire to perform an activity as intimidating as improv? For some it is making structure out of mayhem. For others, it is making their friends laugh through wacky characters and just plain having fun. But perhaps Dangerbox’s inclination comes from the two key aspects of improv: “game,” which is focusing on details in the world and heightening them and “story,” the theatrical and narrative aspects of routines.
“We love storytelling,” said Watson. “Some judges only like game, we always try to bring our own storytelling style.”
Improv comedy makes laughter from nothing using a carefully crafted combination of skill, confidence and teamwork to create a funny and entertaining narrative. The practice is like any sport or art, relying on strategy, technique and comradery for success. Dangerbox exemplifies both sportsmanship and artistry in its quest to be recognized as comedic champions. If their recent win in Chicago is any indication, they’re well on their way.
Email Carter Glace at [email protected].