GCU’s Improv Troupe Is Getting Serious About Making You Laugh

September 18, 2012 / by / 0 Comment

By Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau 

There’s nothing quite like improvisational comedy for fans of the genre, and Michael Kary thinks he knows why. 

“People love it because the chances for failure are so high,” says Kary, a theatre instructor in GCU’s College of Fine Arts and Production. “The performers get pitched a steady diet of curveballs, and you get to see them try to hit.” 

Josh Vanderpoel says he'll do anything for laughs when it's improv showtime at GCU.

For the batters who manage to belt it out of the park, the rewards can be huge. A list of improv alumni reads like a Hall of Fame of comedy: John Belushi, Jack Black, Chris Farley, Will Farrell, Tina Fey, Bill Murray, Kristen Wiig and more. It’s distinguished company, and now GCU audiences will have an opportunity to throw some of the curveballs. 

The show “Improv Your Life,” sponsored by GCU Today, will be presented by two teams of student comedians at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 24 and 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 25 in Ethington Theatre. Admission is free, and it’s open to the public. 

GCU’s improv troupe isn’t exactly new, but it’s new enough. Although auditions were held a year ago, the troupe’s members struggled amid other commitments to find time to practice. Nevertheless, a hastily arranged and poorly publicized Ethington show in late April, on the last day of spring classes, turned out surprisingly well, giving the players something to build on for 2012-13. 

“This will be leaps and bounds better,” Kary says of the upcoming show, supplying another analogy for improv: college hockey. 

“These people don’t care so much about getting hurt or looking stupid,” he says. 

The troupe’s driving force is sophomore Josh Vanderpoel, who has been in several theatrical productions at Ethington but has an insatiable appetite for improv. Vanderpoel was on the improv team at Greenway High School in Phoenix — even training a group of seven teachers there to do their own show — and studied improv this past summer with the Second City Training Center in Hollywood. 

An intensely physical comedian in the mold of the late Farley or Robin Williams, Vanderpoel says he figured he’d become a high school math teacher until improv grabbed him. His interest in theatre came along later.

“If I can make one person laugh today, I’ve done something right,” he says. “I’ve been able to do that since I was a little kid. But with improv, you can make a lot of people laugh. Your stats go up.” 

The class at Second City was a weekend workshop that packed seven two-hour sessions into three days. Vanderpoel plans to return in November for another one. 

 GCU’s improv teams  
 Objects in the Mirror   Pair a Bulls
 Brad Beamon Becca Downs
 Cole Brackney De’Onte Lemons
 Taylor Kessler David Magadan
 Tyler Stokey Holly Nordquist
 Corinne Tachuk Aaron Potter
 Klay Windelear Ryan Usher
  Josh Vanderpoel 

“Improv pulls from our natural human intuitive,” he says. “Everyone’s improvising in life. Just to be real onstage and in a scene, that’s what I took from (the class).” 

“Improv Your Life” will involve games that engage the performers and the audience, similar to what you may have seen on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” Although the troupe also has been working on sketches (a la “Saturday Night Live”), those probably won’t be performed until later. 

Kary says he admires Vanderpoel’s endless stream of ideas but also his ability to give his all to anything he signs up for. By all accounts, the guy is a workhorse. 

“I’m excited about him taking a leadership position with improv,” Kary says. “People look to him and want to get on his wagon. Heck, I’m on his wagon. 

“Improv is like a muscle, and he’s learning to flex it.” 

COFAP junior Dan Cocca says Vanderpoel is a respected arbiter of what’s funny among GCU’s theatre students. He says he’s looking forward to the new show. 

“These performers are students, so when they satirize themselves, they turn the mirror on the life of a college student,” Cocca says. “It’s like a funhouse mirror.” 

Expect outsize laughs from “Improv Your Life,” even if self-inflicted physical harm becomes necessary. 

“I will throw my body around in any way,” Vanderpoel says, and you know he means it. “I don’t care about pain.” 

Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or doug.carroll@gcu.edu.

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