There’s something special about walking into the giddy atmosphere of a UBC Improv show. It’s an energy you won’t find anywhere else on campus—maybe not on any campus.
“We tell our members when they first join the team, ‘Congratulations, you’ve just made 40 new best friends,’” says UBC Improv co-President Charlotte Hursey.
“The community is a huge part of what makes it unique,” fellow co-President Amy Shandro adds. “Everyone’s so supportive.”
As a former member of the club, I’ve experienced this sense of community firsthand. I’m not the only one—UBC Improv may be the most popular university or college improv group in the world.
They have more Facebook likes than any other post-secondary comedy group and regularly pull in audiences of over 300 people. But don’t let that intimidate you—there’s a camaraderie between everyone at the shows, whether you’re watching or performing.
Why is it so popular? Something about watching improv makes you feel like you really get to know the performers. Maybe it’s discovering someone’s individual sense of humour. Maybe it’s witnessing the bravery and vulnerability it takes to walk in front of hundreds of people without anything planned.
What is improv?
“In its simplest form, improv is improvised comedy and theatre that we make up on the spot using suggestions from the audience. We tell stories and we make jokes and we do it all off the top of our heads,” says Charlotte.
Improv can range from short games to extended, multi-day improvised soap operas. UBC Improv usually focuses on “long-form” performances, around 20-30 minutes in length, that follow characters or situations, often telling complete stories with comedic results. That’s not to say an improvised show can’t be touching—you might be surprised how attached you can get to a character in 20 minutes!
The club consists of 4 teams, all of whom have a coach from either the improv community in Vancouver or the club itself. Members of the club come from a wide pool, with a range of experience improvising.
“You've got people who did sports in high school, people who did theatre in high school, and people who just, like, stared at a blank wall in high school and did nothing,” says Charlotte. “It’s very diverse.”
So whether you were a sports-star in high school or a wall-starer (or something in between), improv could be for you. I ask the co-Presidents what they would say to someone who’s interested in improv but is nervous to try it out.
“Do it!” Amy says. “We’re the cheapest place you can do it.”
Aside from the bang-for-your-buck aspect, going to a UBC Improv workshop can be a great way to test out the waters and see if improv is for you. Workshops happen roughly once a month, and the next one is on Wednesday, February 5th. Keep up to date on upcoming workshops by following UBC Improv’s Facebook page.
Diversity in Improv
Improv and comedy in general have a reputation for being rather male-dominated, but UBC Improv has now had all-female co-Presidents for 4 years in a row, a fact that isn’t lost on Amy and Charlotte.
“It’s great to just keep bringing more diverse voices in,” Amy tells me. “And highlight perspectives that haven’t always been heard in comedy.”
“There has been a very visible shift in the voices that are being uplifted in general,” Charlotte adds, mentioning Vancouver Improv groups that showcase diverse voices like Nasty Women, Fistful of Kicks, Uncles Jane’s, Lil Comedy, and Blind Tiger’s WTF (Women Trans Femme) and POC (People of Colour) nights.
“I think it’s a really exciting time to get into comedy,” Charlotte continues.
What’s ahead for UBC Improv
If you’re interested in seeing a UBC Improv show, performances usually happen every second Friday at 7:00 pm. UBC Improv has traditionally performed their shows in lecture halls, but they’ve upgraded this year to the recently reopened Norm Theatre.
“It's a really cool space,” Amy explains. “It feels like a very official event rather than just being a lecture hall. So that's a huge thing we’re looking forward to.”
For those interested in performing with the club, auditions usually take place in September, after AMS Clubs Day. Other notable events include UBC Improv’s Impulse Festival, which brings together teams from around Western Canada and the United States for an improv extravaganza in March. I would definitely recommend going—it’s a unique chance to experience a lot of different styles of improv that you can’t always see in Vancouver.
“That’s a really good week to delve in and be our biggest fan,” Amy says.
“Slurp up the improv,” Charlotte adds.
“Cut that, please,” Amy whispers.
Sorry Amy, I love the line, and besides, it’s improv. There’s no going back once you’ve started—and, to me, that’s the best thing about it.
Amy sums it up: “Improv is your chance to try things and fail, and you won't really be punished as much as you are in the real world. And I think this club has that times a million.”