Marketing itself as “small but mighty” in promotions, Occidental’s emerging sketch comedy club, 2 Paws Up, debuted its first show Nov. 16. The group‘s eight members spent the semester forming the new student organization and developing sketches — many of them testing out their comedic skills for the first time.
During the past summer, Molly Kauffman (sophomore) created 2 Paws Up as an official club. Vice president Emma Winfrey (sophomore) joined later after Kauffman posted an open call on Facebook for anyone interested. According to Kauffman, the club’s name is a play on the phrase “two thumbs up,” modified to reference Occidental’s tiger mascot.
Once a week, 2 Paws Up members share drafted scripts, read them out loud, give collaborative feedback and revise. Their debut show came together primarily within the week leading up to it, the 2 Paws Up members said. According to Louis Nguyen (first year), each member contributed to several aspects of the show. Everyone acted and, in a sense, directed by giving pointers as they rehearsed. And while not everyone wrote a sketch in the show, they all wrote as many sketches as they could throughout the semester, Jenna Beales (first year) said.
Debriefing after their Nov. 15 dress rehearsal, the club members gathered in a circle to finalize details of cues, music, salad and means of cleaning up said salad after a sketch where certain characters spit it out.
“It’s okay if we bomb it,” Paisley Logan (first year) said. “If no one laughs, even though it’s supposed to be a comedy sketch show, that’s okay. Because we really worked hard and we put our effort into it and that’s ultimately what matters — is that we’re getting practice and putting ourselves out there.”
The night of the premiere, audience members filed into Fowler 302, some spilling onto the sides and taking seats on the floor. By the end, club member Lulu Wiesemann (first year) said they fully committed to their performances more than they had during the dress rehearsal, the audience’s laughter spurring them on.
“I’m still on a high,“ Nguyen said at the end of the show. “It was so exciting to have this energy in the room today. I think that’s what really helped our show tonight; it’s kind of a two-way thing.”
Earlier this semester, the club hosted comedy writer and actor Jeff Galantes, who led workshops introducing sketch comedy as a genre and guiding them through the process of drafting a sketch. But for many of the members, the club is their first time stepping into this specific mode of performing arts. Some have past experience in theater, and fewer came in already having experience in comedy. Nguyen said his joining the club was actually an accident.
“I saw ‘sketch,’ I thought it was an art club, so I joined that. And then I came in and it was not. And I thought [about] the name 2 Paws Up, so I thought it was that puppy club I signed up for, which it’s also not,” Nguyen said. “I think it was lucky in a way because I really like it.”
Beales relayed the same story; he brought a sketch pad to the first meeting. Sam Berger (first year) said he never really performed on stage prior to the show, nor did Max Woods (senior) or Logan. Logan said she primarily wanted to write, then stretched herself to act later as the club only had so many members. Although they worked closely and readily shared their work for feedback early on, most members did not initially know anyone else in the club. What they all had in common was an interest in comedy, media arts or creative writing.
Logan distinguished sketch comedy from improv and explained that the aspect of preparation made it more nerve-wracking for her as a writer of subjective humor.
“When you’re doing something like this, you’re sort of telling people that you think that you’re funny,” Logan said. “I don’t necessarily think I’m funny. It’s not that I don’t think I’m funny, but I don’t necessarily think that other people will find what I find funny, funny.”
She added that there was additional pressure from having a live audience that is unique to this type of performance.
“The reaction that you’re getting [in sketch comedy] is the immediate reaction from the audience,” Logan said. “So I think that’s stressful, but also exciting because you get to immediately know if the audience is receiving it well.”
The show ranged widely in its topics, from school to game shows to Uber and auditioning for porn. While some sketches were based on premises meant to be ridiculous, others broached some truth from writers’ observations or lived experiences. Nguyen based one sketch off his experience as an Asian-American student in a Georgia school. In it, Nguyen’s character grapples with cultural misunderstandings and slights from well-meaning faculty members and a classmate.
“It’s kind of me laughing at the [things] I went through,” Nguyen said. “I’m not trying to bring people in my past down, because that’s not the point. This is what I went through, it’s what I found funny about what I went through, and take what you want from it.”
In another sketch, a game show testing intelligence goes astray when the host and judges side blindly with the dimwitted but British-accented contestant, frustrating his clearly smarter competitor with a Southern accent.
“It’s basically just addressing biases, but in a hopefully comical way,” Logan said.
The performers said they are not sure when their next show will be, but they are hoping to scout new writers and actors for the team as the year continues.