ComedySportz: an ab workout for the audience, a mind workout for its members

January 17, 2016 — by Caitlyn Chen and Spring Ma

"Just then, my ex-boyfriend Jeremy walked in," narrated ComedySportz member junior Raymónd McCarthy. McCarthy’s teammate, freshman Adina Bidel, stepped into the scene with masculine strides. 

"Just then, my ex-boyfriend Jeremy walked in," narrated ComedySportz member junior Raymónd McCarthy. McCarthy’s teammate, freshman Adina Bidel, stepped into the scene with masculine strides.

"Honey, I want you back!" Bidel exclaimed in her manliest voice.

McCarthy continued to weave twists and turns into the plotline, forcing Bidel to act out another erroneous plot twist: She bulged her stomach, leaning back to embody McCarthy’s now-pregnant ex-boyfriend.

With every narration from McCarthy, the scene became crazier, and the audience’s laughter louder.

After this round of Dime Store Novel, where one teammate narrates the scene while the others act it out, the audience left with what McCarthy called a “serious ab-workout.”

For the “act-letes” who participate in ComedySportz practices twice a week, drawing connections between topics that may seem unrelated is an art to be deliberately practiced and perfected. Every year, the members of the school’s team participate in improvisation competitions coordinated by the local San Jose ComedySportz organization.

In a competition between two teams of Saratoga participants, these comedians are challenged with topics randomly chosen by a San Jose ComedySportz referee. Under a strict time limit, and the pressure of the audience’s anticipation, members from each side compete for audience laughs as points.

There are relatively no boundaries for ComedySportz performances; students on stage can bring up anything from operas to animals to make audience members laugh.

“The audience is always a big part of the show,” said senior Joseph Eschen, the president of the school’s team. “Before every game, the audience [suggests] the scene or act will be based on.”

In order to prepare for these fast-paced and high-energy performances, the 12 members of the school’s ComedySportz team hold practices twice a week to refine their skills. Although they face the challenge of preparing for a performance that never follows a planned direction, Eschen said the unexpected course of every show “always keeps [them] as the actors and also the audience wanting more.”

Just as athletes practice hypothetical situations during practices, the ComedySportz team has developed a list of games to stimulate their creative mindset before a show and be prepared for any topic presented.

McCarthy called the team’s “sacred ritual” of “Kitty Cat Career” as his favorite practice game, commenting that “the ancient forefathers of ComedySportz have instilled its secrecy since its founding over 100 years ago.”

Though he didn’t want to share all the details of this “crazy energizing” game, McCarthy disclosed that the members start off by chanting the phrase “Kitty Cat Career” amidst clapping rhythmically in the background. One member stands in the middle of the circle and incorporates cat characteristics into a topic, which is chosen in a fashion similar to charades.

In addition to its regular practices, the team also has full-day workshops with professional San Jose ComedySportz players every semester. During these workshops, the players engage in practice games while the professionals give helpful tips on how to keep a scene alive.

As a part of the ComedySportz high school league, the team receives mentorship that extends beyond their two workshops per year: these professionals not only come to the school to act as referees for the performances, but also serve as advisers for the members.

At the end of every show the ComedySportz team gathers in a circle with the [professional referee] and go over game by game what worked and what didn’t,” drama teacher Sarah Thermond said. “They basically extend everything from the workshops into every show, so [our team can] be constantly reflecting and improving.”

These tips prove useful when they compete with other teams in the ComedySportz high school league, like Evergreen Valley High School, one of their biggest competitors.

Every year, the school’s ComedySportz team travels to the State Thespian Conference where more than 50 schools compete in Los Angeles. At last year’s conference, the team earned second place overall, success they hope to accomplish this year as well.

“Our team has increased its size, awards and skill,” McCarthy said. “It's great to see more and more people coming to our shows, not knowing what to expect, only to leave with a smile and great ab workout.”

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