Improv comedy group prepares for seniors’ final performance

Sarah Haas

Boundaries do not exist for the crew of Iowa State’s own improvisational comedy group – Grandma Mojo’s Moonshine Revival.

A band of 11 close friends, the members are “not after cheap laughs,” said Don Watts, sophomore in performing arts and a Grandma Mojo’s member. Instead they work as a team to elicit heartfelt laughter from the audience with high-brow humor.

“It’s one place where you can say whatever you want and not be judged,” said Meg Linafelter, senior in graphic design. “I think it’s therapeutic. You can go out there, forget your homework and your problems and be someone else.”

Linafelter and the other seniors will perform in their last show together at 10 p.m. Wednesday in the Maintenance Shop of the Memorial Union.

To help create their material, the group members go through their daily lives, picking up inspiration and writing it down and, sometimes, if it works into the chaos of the storylines, use their ideas in a show.

“You don’t practice improv,” said Steven Murray, freshman in computer engineering and recent addition to the Grandma Mojo’s cast. “Instead you learn the strengths and weaknesses of the people around you, and you do your best to work with them.”

The group practices every week, but with so many conflicting schedules, group veteran Andy Birmingham, senior in political science, said gathering everyone at once to run through games and team-building exercises is difficult.

Games like “Useless Debate,” in which people squabble over trivial issues such as who rightly deserves the crown of prom king, warm the group up for their shows. Birmingham said the games have been passed down through the years of Grandma Mojo’s’ existence or found on the Internet.

Yet Linafelter said the cast has no idea what scenes and ideas will make it into a show.

“We make an outline of which games or skits to do during the show 20 minutes before we hit the stage,” she said.

For Brandon Wlosinski, sophomore in pre-architecture and another recent addition to the group, the unpredictability of improvisation is exciting and invigorating.

“You have an idea of what’s going to happen or what you’re going to say in your mind,” Wlosinski said. “I have a five-second buffer. I think of something I’m going to say, and I think about it for five seconds to see if it sounds good to me at the time and then I just go with it.”

The mix of the expected and surprising makes their shows successful, Birmingham said. For nearly eight years, he and Andy Hilbrands, senior in communication studies, have done comedy work together and have learned how to provoke the audience and their fellow comedians.

He believes people can be molded into stage performers if they have talent.

“If you’re witty and funny, you should try being witty and funny on stage in front of people, where you don’t ever have to be serious,” he said.

Many of the group members plan on continuing their work in comedy after college.

“I don’t think I can fully leave improv. I mean, I know I will have to get some sort of professional job, but I still want to be involved in theater,” Linafelter said.