Behind the Scenes With Free Beer

Anna Letson

Ryan Mikel, Entertainment Editor

Many of us grew up watching sketch comedy shows like “Saturday Night Live” and the late “Mad TV.” The next day at school, we would try to recreate our favorite sketches, like Kristen Wiig as Paula Deen or the infamous Bon Qui Qui. But where did the Tina Feys and Amy Poehlers of the comedy world get their start? For many, it was their college improv or sketch comedy group. For NYU, this group is Free Beer.

“[We’re a] really weird sketch group,” co-president of Free Beer and Tisch senior Carly Oscar said. “A place where all of [your] shower thoughts come to life.”

Free Beer is an NYU-affiliated sketch comedy group that seeks out eclectic and diverse comedic voices on campus. The group got its start back in the late-2000s as Antonio’s Army.

“I don’t know for sure if someone named Antonio was ever in the group,” Tisch senior Jon Barr, the group’s head writer, said. “But after a certain point, the group decided to change the name to something more sketch group sounding.”

In fact, the group’s name is actually a marketing ploy to fill seats or “to dupe alcoholic college students into comedic stitches once every few Fridays,” according to its mission statement. The only thing you can ever know for sure about the group is that there won’t be any free beer at the shows.

WSN sat down with the group last week at their impromptu rehearsal space in the Academic Resource Center. When I entered, the group was in the middle of a weekly table reading of sketches, where members would critique and offer their own ideas for the sketch. This weekly reading of pitches is fundamental in how the show’s final product materializes.

“All of us are expected to write and we vote democratically on what gets into each month’s show — we typically go from 25 [sketches] to 10,” Oscar said. “Lots of [improvisation] and ad libs occur along the way so the sketches really grow and change from just pitches.”

The WSN interview, similar to the group’s aforementioned artistic process, was strictly collaborative. Members spoke about a slew of things, ranging from hilarious stage moments to when the audience doesn’t laugh to their good-natured feud with fellow campus sketch comedy group, Hammerkatz.

“When the audience isn’t responding, I try to get whoever I’m on stage with to break,” Connor Donahue, a Tisch senior and member of Free Beer, said. “One time, I snuck a bag of Skittles on stage and I started feeding them to my partner, completely out of context. And that worked.”

“‘Go rogue,’ ‘balls to the wall’ and ‘commit’ were all other strategies to dodge awkward moments onstage.” Marissa Sandler, a Tisch sophomore and Free beer member, said. “As long as you’re having fun with it and don’t regret your performance, that’s all we can ask of ourselves.”

In regards to Hammerkatz, NYU’s supposedly premier sketch comedy group, its feud with Free Beer is more playful than malicious.

“We’re all doing the same thing, so we try to support each other,” Zac Branciforte, a Tisch sophomore and Free Beer member said. “Instead of looking at it as a feud, we use [Hammerkatz] as inspiration. Something to push us.”

Free Beer’s next show, the Halloween-themed “Free Candy, Free Beer” is Friday, Oct. 27, at the Kimmel Center for University Life. Check out its Facebook page for more events and semesterly audition postings.

A previous version of this article stated that Jon Barr was co-president of Free Beer, when in fact he is the head writer.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Oct. 10 print edition.

Email Ryan Mikel at [email protected]