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February 16, 2011

Insecure or not, Off-Off stages on-point improv

It is well-known that the folks at Off-Off Campus have a history of giving their shows outrageously witty titles, and the name of this season’s show is no exception. This winter, the multitalented members of UChicago’s most visible improv and sketch comedy group opted to combine pure, devastating British charm with serial killer instincts in their outlandish title, “The Michael Cainesaw Massacre.”

The title was initially proposed by 4th-year Peter Damm, and this was neither the first nor the last Michael-Caine-themed title to cross his mind. He has a whole word document full of them. The list of alternate Caine-infused titles was extensive and included such gems as “Vicky Christina Michael Caine,” “Michael Caine Tomb Raider,” and “Are You There God? It’s Me, Michael Caine.”

Is there any reason behind this Michael Caine mania? “No,” said Damm, “except [that] Michael Caine is awesome.”

Other would-be titles for the season were “C-Spandex,” “Mini Cooper, Minnie Driver,” and my personal favorite, “Carmen Electra in the House of Atreus.”

Clearly these guys have a well-honed sense of humor, but when the Friday-night laughter stops, the cast knows they have to buckle down for another week of intense comedic commitment. In order to become a member of Off-Off, students have to train for two quarters, from seven to ten every night except for Friday and Saturday. After completing this rigorous initiation process, the real work begins with rehearsals running every day Sunday through Thursday.

If we’re doing a sketch,” said fourth-year Megan Kingsbury, “two or three rehearsals are spent purely writing, a third or fourth day is spent blocking, and then Thursday we’ll do a rehearsal at the University Church.”

In other words, you’ve got to have a lot of passion, wit, and focus. And though they may well be comedic Titans, the Off-Off cast is still totally normal and deserving of the occasional psychological portrait. As proof of this, when asked if he had any concluding remarks about the Off-Off experience, 4th-year Ben Mizel gave the heartfelt reply that “We’re mostly doing this because deep down we’re insecure like everyone else.” Not a dry eye in the house.

The Off-Off cast puts up a completely different show every week of every quarter (and that includes shows in the summer). On average, about half of the shows are entirely improv-based, while the other half are comprised of sketches. All this being said, it is difficult to predict what it is you are actually going to see when you attend an Off-Off show.

When asked if the active generations of Off-Off embraced one kind of humor in particular, the general consensus seemed to be that each member has his or her own instinctive comedic voice. fourth-year Ed Hausman, for example, claims to have very topical, politically motivated humor and calls himself, “the CNBC of Off-Off.” Kingsbury, on the other hand is very literary which is evidenced by her attachment to the would-be review title, “War and Fleece.” Damm likes to do physical comedy.

As I said, there is a different show every Friday night of the quarter, and this week’s show, directed by Kingsbury, is aptly named “Something To Do on a Friday Night Before You and Your Loser Friends Get Sloshed.” The title is certainly seeped in college humor, but Megan assured me that the audience can expect, “an all-star cast, with people from the 22nd, 23rd and 24th generations.”

There will also be a “pre-glow,” (Off-Off term for “pre-show), featuring DJ Loosefit and an “after glow,” featuring The Dean’s Men. Megan would not reveal too much about the show itself, but she did let slip that it will be, “All improv, 100% improv, and there may or may not be nudity.” I don’t know how much truth there is in that statement, but I do know that this Friday I’m going to see the cast in action for the first time, even if they are a little insecure.

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