Grandma Mojo’s Moonshine Revival brings midweek laughter, passion for improv

Members of the improv comedy troupe Grandma Mojo’s Moonshine Revival, Ashley Diaz and Adam Kroksh, interact during their Valentine’s Day Show at The Maintenance Shop on Feb. 8.

Jill O'Brien

It was the Wednesday before Valentine’s Day, and the M-Shop was packed. A variety of pop songs floated across the room, the melodies mingling with the laughter of students and their friends or dates.

When the clock struck 10 p.m., everyone turned to face the back of the room to see the members of Grandma Mojo’s Moonshine Revival, the improv comedy troupe, running down the aisle and jumping excitedly on stage.

The applause, cheers and whistling from the crowd took over, and the nine members of the group were aglow from the lights of the M-Shop and the audience’s response to their presence.

Grandma Mojo’s Moonshine Revival has been on campus for about 25 years, originating as a sketch comedy troupe.

Auditions take place at the start of each semester, so there is a rotating cast of Mojo’s participants, but the troupe is currently composed of nine students and the troupe’s manager, Julie Nagel.

The members of Grandma Mojo’s have shifted toward improv over the years and continually provide mid-week laughter to Iowa State students, hosting improv workshops in Pearson Hall and being known as the “cheapest date on campus – only $1!”

The group is known for the variety of improv games it plays during its shows, ranging from what the troupe calls big-laugh games, like one called Oscar Winning Moment, to slower-paced games to bring the audience back into the show.

According to the troupe, one of the keys to keeping things fresh during each performance is paying attention onstage and off, and tuning into the world around you.

The games played during their shows are a mixture of games from other troupes and new ones developed in their weekly practices.

“We have a lot of games in our repertoire,” said Keegon Jackson, senior in performing arts. “We try to shake it up as much as we can.”

Some of their games include audience participation or involvement, and those are described as some of the troupe’s favorites.

“Anytime we can include the audience is so much more fun,” said Traer Schon, senior in journalism and mass communication.

From the games they play to the actual act of improv comedy at Iowa State, Mojo’s, as it’s called by the troupe, is full of traditions, whether they’ve been passed down from former members or are being started now to be passed down in the future.

This aspect of passing things down appears not only in the games the audience sees, but in the conversations the troupe has with one another about improv as an art.

“Mojo’s is a collection of individual voices, depending on who is in the troupe,” said Taylor Sklenar, an Iowa State graduate with degrees in chemistry, English and performing arts. “The same debates will come up about how much is for fun and how much is art, and with people shifting in and out, the traditions get passed down.”

Other members agreed with Sklenar’s sentiment, and added that the closeness of the group contributes to its strength both on and offstage. At the core of the group’s strength, and the strength of improv in general, is trusting one another.

“Improv is vulnerable — you have to trust everyone,” Schon said.

This trust allows the troupe to take risks and try everything onstage, from the unexpected to the flat-out ridiculous. But if something doesn’t work, they accept it and move on, simple as that.

‘We’re never mad at each other for cutting a scene,” Schon said.

The familial aspects, mixed with the group’s rotating cast of members and their shared passion for improv, are what make Grandma Mojo’s a second family for its members.

“The people inside are my best friends,” said Ashley Diaz, sophomore in performing arts. “You always come and see some of the same faces.”

The troupe encourages those with an interest in improv to come out to shows or to one of its workshops on Tuesdays in Pearson Hall.

As for the future of Grandma Mojo’s, the current members expressed a desire to plant improv roots at Iowa State, take risks and grow together.

“Continually, we’re trying new things as a troupe,” said Adam Krosch, senior in performing arts. “We’re never trying to stay safe.”

Grandma Mojo’s performs in the M-Shop every other Wednesday at 10 p.m. as well as at select ISU AfterDarks.