Improvisational comedy is a unique craft; the specialized art lends itself to the bizarre and unexpected flow that is unique to stories made up on the spot, and holds an enormous element of surprise over the head of the audience. At Rensselaer, the niche performance style is filled by the group Sheer Idiocy. Throughout the semester, the group puts on several shows to entertain the RPI community. In honor of Family Weekend, Sheer Idiocy opted to put on a two-hour performance for the benefit of visiting RPI friends and families.
Improvisational comedy is generally performed as a series of events or skits. Cast members will request input from the audience, and perform a story, song, or rhyme based on the response. Communication with the audience is an essential part of improv, and allows shows done in the style to be interactive and engaging. Consequently, the performance demands that cast members be engaged, culturally informed, and dynamic in order to create a successful show.
At the start of the performance, the group prompted the audience for the names of visiting family members. The first skit was simple; the group competed to rhyme as many words as possible with the name pulled from the audience. Quite honestly, the game seemed too simple to be in the true spirit of improv. It wasn’t mentally demanding, and didn’t involve any particular set of skills outside of basic vocabulary. The performance was a fun and cute nod to the fact that a substantial part of the audience was visiting, but it could just as well have been performed by anyone who had written a poem in middle school, which is to say everyone.
However, as the performance moved on, the group did more to impress. Sheer Idiocy carefully crafted stories on the fly, and their ability to characterize was genuinely very striking; the group was able to carve relatively intricate details into their on-stage presences in a second’s time, and the communication between characters was remarkable. The on-stage chemistry of the group is notable, and the stories they managed to create together as they were speaking were admirable in consequence.
The group’s performance evolved as the show moved on. In one sequence, cast members acted as different radio stations while another cast member dialed between them. If the stage-made radio was tuned to a particular performer, that cast member was expected to come up with dialogue fitting their particular station in a second’s time. When the radio was dialed into NPR, a cast member donned a grim monotone and discussed foreign politics. Meanwhile, the country station performed a ballad reminiscing dogs and trucks lost to the ages. This particular skit was incredibly clever in that it demanded a fair amount of knowledge on a particular radio station. Improv often plays on stereotypes and clichés, but the show did so in a dynamic and exciting way.
In short, the performance was quick, funny, and intelligent. Improvisational comedy demands an enormous amount of concentration and dedication from its performers, and the group managed to hit that on every level. Sheer Idiocy has proven dedicated to creating a unique and dynamic experience for the audience.