Under the Knife: Geneseo Improv Comedy Club

Senior Gavin Price is the newest troupe leader of Improv Comedy Club, the group that brings "No Laugh Track Required" to the Robert Sinclair Theatre every year.

Price has been involved since his first semester at Geneseo and since that time has seen his experience with improvised comedy flood into every area of his life. In his own words, "Improv brings people closer. It's really just about being open-minded and listening to others." Price intends to take the path he's on now all the way into the future, to eventually become a diplomat of the arts.

For the rest of his days at Geneseo, however, the highlights of his life are with comedy, and the comedy is with the college's own improv troop. The group not only earns the acclaim of Geneseo students several times a year, with their shows in the Black Box theater, but it has attracted the attention of other New York schools. Clarkson University paid them $1,500 to put on a show, and the comedy crew of SUNY Oneonta plans to join forces with them at Geneseo this semester.

While everything they do is off the cuff and on the spot, the Improv Comedy Club spends a few hours each week refining their skills and building their talents. Every Sunday afternoon, the group meets for two hours, during which no character, environment or scene is off-limits. The members not only practice their ability to spin anything into a funny routine, but also to follow the key principles that make it work.

"In order to be good at improv," Price said, "you need to know the rules…and then break the rules." Some of the rules include not blocking a character's ideas in scene, not forcing the other person to explain the situation and not telling a story. Unlike stand-up, the performance is dependent on good interaction, so the performers are dependent on each other. According to Price, "You want the scene to be as good as possible, so you make the people you're acting with as good as possible."

The practices of the Improv Comedy Club have changed over the years as much as the scenes they perform. Under different troupe leaders, the balance tips back and forth between an open-minded free-for-all and structured training. As troupe leader this semester, Price acknowledged that "we're all amateurs," and that every practice and show builds understanding and experience in its own way.

This semester, 11 people have already auditioned, which according to Price is already too many. The group thrives on being as small and tightly-knit as possible, despite the talent of so many potential performers. Each scene features two or three members stepping up, taking ideas from anyone or anything, and creating the characters and situations as they go along. In short-form improv the actors work with gimmicks, games and gambits. In long-form, everything is organic and the scene builds from a single idea.

The key to all of it, according to Price, is honesty. When the actors are honest about themselves, their characters and their reactions, the comedy emerges on its own. "The funniest people are the ones who are just comfortable," Price said. The other key is paying attention to everything said and done, so the reactions will be natural and the comedic timing will be on its mark. As a small group, the members of the Improv Comedy Club are well attuned to one another.

"We're all grounded enough to communicate with others and be funny," Price said. "But we're also kind of crazy." This is the mix he hopes to bring to Geneseo this year, with casual shows spread throughout the semester and two official shows, the first of which will start at 4 p.m. on Nov. 2 in the Black Box theater.