The stage in the Loeb Experimental Theater is dark. A dimly lit figure approaches the audience slowly until people can clearly recognize the figure as…a banana. The Immediate Gratification Players—Harvard’s only long-form improvisational comedy troupe—hosted its 14th annual Laugh Riot Festival themed “Bananas Everywhere” on Friday and Saturday at the Loeb Experimental theater. The show was directed by Martha R. Farlow ’13 and produced by Aneliese K. Palmer ’12. Bananas were indeed everywhere, as the IGP performers pranced around on the stage in large banana suits, sometimes holding and interacting with real bananas.
“‘Bananas Everywhere’ was a party theme that was suggested once, and after a while it just stuck,” says Katherine C. Damm ’13, IGP’s so-called Czar, or troupe leader. The different comedy troupes performed for 20 minutes each, with intermittent commentary from IGP performers. The theme made appearances in some of the skits, though the dynamic nature of improvisational comedy often makes sticking to one consistent theme impossible. “Every one of our shows is different. That’s what makes [improvisation] fun,” says Palmer.
The Laugh Riot Festival is a weekend-long event where comedy troupes from other universities can perform together and participate in improvisational comedy workshops led by professionals from New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. This year, improvisational comedy troupes from Dartmouth University, Wesleyan University, and Ohio State University registered for the workshops at Harvard and performed for students at night. “It’s really cool to watch groups from other places perform, because we all have different styles,” says Farlow. The Immediate Gratification Players use a montage format in their performances, a series of scenes of no particular structure based on a single suggestion. Ohio State University’s improvisational comedy troupe 8th Floor uses another form of the montage called an Armando, which relies heavily on the use of comedic mologues. Other groups tend to use a variation of the Harold, the signature format of Chicago’s iO Theater. The Harold is more structured than a regular montage or an Armando and has a set number of scenes that should be performed in the time allotted.
The festival is about exchange between groups, both comedic and otherwise. “We travel with the other groups to festivals sometimes, so we get to know them pretty well,” says Farlow.
New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theater performed a few skits in the festival as well. Numerous alumni of the UCBT program have gone on to star in comedy shows like “Saturday Night Live”, “30 Rock”, and “The Daily Show.” Notable alumni include Amy Poehler, Ed Helms, Ian Roberts, and Bobby Moynihan, who are known for their comedic performances in TV shows such as “Human Giant” and movies such as “The Hangover.” It’s also home to former Crimson Arts editor Alison H. Rich ’09, who first encouraged the troupe to attend IGP’s Laugh Riot festivals. “We love working with IGP alums, and working with [UCBT] is always a treat for us,” says Damm.
The Laugh Riot Festival is one of the biggest events in the spring for IGP. “Planning for the event is sporadic at best, but it turns out great every year,” says Palmer. The group often uses the Loeb Experimental Theater for their festival because it can accommodate more people than the Fong Auditorium and still allows them to put on their shows for free. “It’s written in our constitution that our shows have to be free,” says Damm.
The group aims to keep their shows simple and fun, and this element of their performances adds to IGP’s enduring popularity. “Improv is a relaxing and fun way to enjoy the evening. That’s why people keep coming back to our shows year after year,” says Palmer. The Immediate Gratification players offer students more than just silly costumes and a lot of bananas. In an environment saturated with talk of tests, Q guide scores, and section notes, it’s important that students take a moment to take a break from Harvard life and just laugh.
—Staff writer Charlotte Smith can be reached at email@example.com.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: Feb. 9
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Alison H. Rich '09 was a member of the Immediate Gratification Players. In fact, she was not a member of the comedy troupe.