Behind the Scenes With Awkward Silence

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Members of the Awkward Silence improv team rehearse before their first performance of the year, which will be Friday Oct. 2.  Photo by Cass Krughoff/Foghorn
Members of the Awkward Silence improv team rehearse before their first performance of the year, which will be Friday Oct. 2. Photo by Cass Krughoff/Foghorn

Often comedians or improv artists “cross the line,” but this talented young group of hooligans acknowledges the line, then proceeds to race miles past it. Awkward Silence isn’t just a team of funny people; improv comedy is a way of life for the members and they certainly do justice to their name. I got to sit in on a rehearsal, and with every comment or quip, I was caught uncomfortably between a laugh and a cringe. The group’s loyal audience not only knows but expects the subject of a skit to stray into horrendously inappropriate topics. You know that these people are violating every decent and moral subject in the book but somehow they stop just before it becomes truly profane. And this year there are five new energetic members that are jumping at the chance to make all of San Francisco laugh.

Jim Taugher and James Godbolt, captains of Awkward Silence, recently wrapped up auditions hoping to find new artists, new personalities and new perspectives. Thirty prospective joke-makers came out to impress the captains but only five made it past the judges. When asked what qualities are essential to improv comedians, Taugher said, “They have to have natural ability, be comfortable onstage, and be able to work in a team. Anyone can do improv, but not everyone is good at it.” A key distinction of good potential members for Jim and James is whether the direction of a scene is actually awkward as opposed to funny awkward. This improv group strives for the latter. A good way to sum it up is to picture a child in his or her kindergarten play. As funny as it is to see the kid go completely blank, we don’t want to make a habit of a real life run-off-the-stage-crying kind of awkward silence. After all, we do not go to shows to sympathize with performers’ mistakes, we come to be entertained.

In order to make sure the entertainment continues after the five seniors currently on the team graduate, Taugher and Godbolt specifically kept eyes out for freshmen at auditions. The newest members, mainly underclassmen, are going through an unofficial hazing period. By no means are the veteran comedic members forcing them to prove their commitment to the team in dangerous ways; in fact, they mesh together like they have been friends for years. The real test will be if the audience feels the same camaraderie at Awkward Silence’s first show on October 2. Godbolt comments that because of the variety of the members, there are lots of fresh perspectives that allow “different strengths, weaknesses, and backgrounds to work their way into the show.”

A new concept that Jim and James have been considering is venturing into “sketch comedy.” Sketch comedy involves the beginnings of a script for a comedy routine, but breaks off to allow improvisational artists to take it in any direction they please. The best part is that these performances will be videotaped and released to USFtv to “promote our upcoming shows and what we do, but we have to think about it a bit more before we make a final decision,” said Taugher.

Among the changes we are looking forward to with new members and styles of comedy, another unprecedented event may be in our future at USF. Awkward Silence has big plans in the works for a special visit from Upright Citizens Brigade. This improvisational comedy group is based in New York and is famous for having Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and Ed Helms involved in the shows. The goal is to bring this legendary troupe to USF and collaborate with our very own Awkward Silence for a comedy night to remember. “If we could get the Upright Citizens Brigade out here, it would put us on the map. People outside the USF community would pay to see them perform and it would establish our legitimacy as an improv team,” Taugher said. The only problem is money, as is so often the case. Bluntly, Taugher noted that it would take “a handful of grand.” For this reason, Awkward Silence is politely asking for $2 donations at their shows. If you don’t have the money to spare, don’t worry, you can still see the shows because they will still be free. But let’s face it, for the price one cup of coffee, we may get the chance to see the comedy group that churned out famous comedians and Saturday Night Live stars.

Awkward Silence team captains are excited to kick off the comedic calendar with their first show on Oct. 2 at 10 p.m. in UC 222. It promises to be an unpredictable event with scores of fresh talent ready to prove that sometimes an awkward silence can be a good thing.

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