Mixing-up the comedy-group scene on campus, the new improv group Office Hours will make its debut performance this Friday at Quinby House. The group, led by James Jelin ’16, consists of Sophie de Bruijn ’18, Maggie Seymour ’16, Justin Weathers ’18, Collin Litts ’18 and Sam Chase ’16. 

Unlike The Improvabilities, a group that performs mainly classic short-form improv (think “Whose Line is It Anyway?”), Office Hours strictly uses the long-form technique pioneered by Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB), an improvisational comedy theater in New York City.
“[Long-form improv] is a totally different beast,” said de Bruijn.

In long-form improv, the actors work together to develop a comedic scene centered around a single cue—a word suggestion, a monologue from an audience member or someone’s Facebook profile. 

“We want to find comedy in real experiences and stories,” said Jelin.

Jelin hopes to create a distinct theme for each of the group’s future shows, such as “bad relationship night,” where audience members are prompted to share stories. 

“When it works, it’s like magic,” said de Bruijn, who worked for and took classes at the UCB theater in New York City this summer. 

“All of the comedy is being built from the ground up,” she added. 

With this lack of a set structure, however, the group must be patient for the comedic component of the scene to emerge. 

“There’s nothing inherently funny about [each scene],” de Bruijn said. “If it goes wrong, a scene can fall flat.”

Jelin started Office Hours this fall, eager to explore long-form improv after spending the summer perusing the UCB comedy manual. In the audition process, he looked for performers who were willing to support their scene partners, even if it meant not making themselves look good. 

“If you go for the cheap, easy laugh versus working to build a credible scene with your partner, that makes [the scene] less funny over time,” said de Bruijn.  
A key part of effective long-form, according to Jelin and de Bruijn, is effective communication across the group. 

“Your job as an improvisor is to get on the same page as everyone else about the one specific thing that is funny in a scene and then work together to explore that thing,” said Jelin. 

Each group member is faced with the task of sending subtle cues to other members to agree upon the comedic kernel of the scene. Members have to trust their scene partners and actively support one another, and this strong sense of group identity quells the pressure that comes with performing improv. 

“You’re just there to make your scene partner look good, and knowing that everybody is there with that mentality is really comforting,” said de Bruijn.

“One of the key tenets of UCB improv is that silence is okay,” she added.

As both a leader and member of the group, Jelin is faced with the challenge of offering his insights about the UCB style, while recognizing that the whole group is new to the form.
“I want to get us into the public consciousness because I’m hoping to perform a lot next semester,” said Jelin. 

Sam Chase is a Managing Editor of the Orient.