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Comedy in College: 8th Floor Improv, diversity in comedy, and Bellwether Festival 11

PHOTOS PROVIDED BY KK YAND

Comedy is a life force of its own. What’s the best way to cope with impending midterms, internship applications, or the molding cheese you have in your fridge that you’ve been meaning to throw out for three weeks? You probably laugh, then cry, then laugh again. Which is where 8th Floor Improv comes into play.

Ohio State’s Improv Comedy team hosts monthly $5 improv shows and travels all over the country to different schools showcasing their mad improv skills. On September 27 and 28, 8th Floor will be hosting Bellwether Festival 11, the largest collegiate Improv Comedy Festival! HELLO.

To get the full scoop on 8th Floor Improv, diversity in comedy, and Bellwether Festival, I sat down with their president Nicole Repishti, a senior history major who focuses on 20th century social movements when she’s not onstage making other people pee on the spot.

How did you get involved with 8th Floor?

My sophomore year, basically my friend the day of auditions was like, “You should come with me, I’m not going to go by myself like please come.” And I was like “Ok, whatever.” So I went and I ended up getting a callback and getting in. So for me, it was totally random. And for most people they’ve never done improv or had theatre experience before they get in, so people just kind of go on a whim usually and find out that they’re good at it and stick with it. It’s kind of interesting how it turns out that way.

Had you had theatre experience before or not really?

Not at all, no.

What is the audition process like?

We have two days of auditions. You only come one day and you just do two-person scenes with another person. You do that twice in the night. A two-person scene lasts about three minutes, we give them a word, and they just start. But before that we go over like basic guidelines of improv that might be helpful to people.

Is it a pretty selective group?

I would say yes, my year, there were five new people and that was a lot, but it really depends on the year and the semester. Right now we only have 11 people, but we’re usually at 15 to 17 people.

What does your rehearsal process look like?

We practice three times a week for two hours at a time, so it’s pretty involved. Then we have a show about once a month on Fridays. On performance days, we’ll be on the Oval flyering so it does take up a lot of time, but it doesn’t feel like it because we like it so much.

How do you think 8th Floor Improv has changed over the years in terms of diversity?

When I got in, there was only one other woman in the group and she was also the only woman of color. So that’s changed since then, but it’s still not super diverse. We’re definitely trying to change that, because if you don’t see yourself represented on stage then you might not think it’s something that you can do, and we want to appeal to all sorts of people.

We have a lot of conversations about what is appropriate and what’s not because it is so important to have an inclusive environment. With improv, sometimes something will come out of your mouth in a way that you didn’t necessarily intend to cause offense with. And because of that, we often have pow-wows in our rehearsals to see what we’re doing right, what needs to be improved, if everyone is feeling comfortable with the jokes that are being said. And it’s like that from the very beginning, we always say in auditions that we don’t want anything sexist, racist, ableist, etc. being said here because that kind of attitude is not welcome in our group. the very nature of improv is supporting your partners on stage, which really translates off stage as well.

We’re trying to make Bellwether the most diverse it’s ever been just based on the teams that we’re inviting. So we’re really excited about that and we’re definitely trying to make it a much more inclusive environment because it should be that way.

It’s amazing that you guys are having those important conversations and speaking of Bellwether, what are the origins of Bellwether Fest?

It started off pretty small, kind of as a competition, but now we invite professional teams from New York and Chicago, and we also invite collegiate teams from all over the country. We’re bringing eight collegiate teams and six or seven professional teams this year. (Speaking of which, the list for this year includes collegiate teams from Indiana University, Mizzou, Ohio University, and professional groups Marquis, Shotgun, and Majority Rules!)

What’s been your favorite performance at Bellwether?

The one I’m always really excited for is called Hellbush, and it’s the current women and alumni of 8th floor where we come together and do a 20-minute set on stage. That one is definitely a fan favorite because usually you don’t get to perform with all women.

What is a typical day at the Festival like? Who are you most looking forward to seeing?

It’s from 7 p.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday. It starts with collegiate teams during the first half of the night, 8th floor performs sort of in the middle, then alumni come back for their own set which is always really really funny, and then professional teams go on later in the night, and then we have one headliner at the end of the night.

What would you say is the best way to enjoy the festival for a newcomer who might not be familiar to comedy?

I really love all of the groups that are coming because I invited all of them, but I would say that the middle of the night is definitely the sweet spot. Also, you can come and go as you please. It’s free and you can come at 7 p.m., take a break, and come back at 10 p.m. But if you’re really wanting
to see the professionals, that’s going to be towards the end of the night, and those are people that you would generally have to pay to see in New York or Chicago, and you get to see them for free here.

What happened when I asked her about seeing live comedy in Columbus? She admitted that she doesn’t really watch comedy here, but if you want to watch incredibly talented students making the world a funnier place, go see one of 8th Floor Improv’s shows, always $5, always at the US Bank Theatre in the Union.

Follow them on their socials and if you’re really feeling it feel free to audition at the start of next semester!


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Diana Verde

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