With fake cigarettes in-hand, New York accents engaged and full-body vagina costumes donned, seniors Gita Kant and Lola Motley took the stage last fall in a sketch about sexual health before an overflowing Kresge Auditorium. After almost two years of Covid-19 restrictions, Purity Pact’s end-of-semester show marked a milestone in the return of campus comedy.
Purity Pact, a sketch and stand-up comedy group composed of women and non-binary students, is one of three remaining student-run comedy groups on campus. The other two, Office Hours and Improvabilities, are both improvisational comedy groups.
Despite the pandemic stagnating growth for most extracurricular groups on campus, Purity Pact boasts the most comedians it’s ever had, with 12 members this semester.
“I’m really excited we have new people. The people we have are so amazing, and I wouldn’t want it to be any other way,” Kant said.
Ellie Pike ’22 echoed her co-leader’s thoughts.
“It’s a very special space. Right now we’re all female, and it’s hard to turn off that instinct of [being] like, ‘this might be dumb, but …’ [when pitching sketches]. I feel like that’s so built into our vocabulary, but I do think that people feel more confident sharing ideas or just riffing off of each other [in Purity Pact] … and people don’t interrupt each other. People are more respectful,” Pike said.
Despite Purity Pact’s strength, not all comedy groups at the College share the same fate. Most notably, Bowdoin Night Live (BNL), which wrote and performed sketches based on life at Bowdoin, disbanded during the pandemic.
Ex-leader of BNL Maddie Miller ’22 attributed BNL’s collapse to a range of factors that predated the pandemic, the primary component being what she believes was BNL’s lack of seasoned, dedicated members.
“It was clear that BNL was not a priority for anyone in the group, really. We had weekly practices to which 30 percent of the group would show up,” Miller said.
When the pandemic hit, the cracks in the foundation of BNL began to show and Miller eventually left BNL for Purity Pact.
“Every time I tried to talk [about] logistics, people seemed kind of hesitant, and I got annoyed with dealing with that, so I quit,” Miller said. “I don’t know if it’s a woman or man thing, I think that Purity Pact is just closer with one another and they had a more coherent and organized structure when the pandemic hit.”
With BNL gone, Purity Pact is the sole creator of sketch comedy at the College—a fact indicative of the evolving comedy scene on campus.
“If you want to do sketch, you pretty much have to identify as a woman or [as] non-binary, or you have to do improv … there was a bigger community for people interested in comedy [before the pandemic], and I feel like it’s shrunk significantly since,” Miller said.
Miller also mourns the heterogenous comedy tastes that once existed on campus.
“Purity Pact is a lot more sensitive to politically correct humor than BNL was … I don’t have much of an opinion about non-PC humor, but I do feel like there’s a gap on campus,” Miller said. “There’s not as much of a voice on campus anymore for more ‘out there’ humor, and I do think that the comedy shows are a cool place to start campus dialogue.”
As one of the most visible comedy groups on campus, Purity Pact’s brand of humor has been subject to scrutiny. Additionally, last fall the group was criticized for being predominantly white—an issue of which Purity Pact’s leadership is well-aware.
“It’s been a big problem in the group in the past that it’s just an incredibly white group, and comedy is also just an incredibly white space. I think sometimes it feels like we give ourselves a pass because it’s like, ‘oh, we’re a space that feels safe because there are no men,’ and it’s like, ‘no, we’re also an incredibly white space,’” said Pike. “So, obviously, our humor is going to be pretty white in a lot of ways, and it’s something we’re really trying to work on and is hard to navigate, because it’s not like we’re going to recruit people of color [in a tokenizing way] to be in our group, but also it’s not gonna be a strong group if we don’t have a lot of different comedic perspectives.”
Kant echoed Pike’s perspective, adding that she wished more non-binary students were in the group, too.
While Purity Pact’s leaders and members continue to grapple with how to address representation in their group, at the end of the day, members believe that the club is a force for good for those involved.
“I’m really happy that I got to be a part of [Purity Pact] … it’s been really special. I was kind of an outsider in high school, I wasn’t someone who was seen as particularly funny or cool or exciting. To just be with these people who really make you laugh and inspire you and make you think about things in a different way and teach you how to communicate about these things to big groups of people and touch people in this way is the best feeling ever,” Kant said. “It’s something I want to do forever.”