Arts and Entertainment | Theater

'Spooktacular': SSO-Lol's first standup comedy show of the semester

The dim lighting, bare stone walls, and vaguely sinister organ music floating down to the basement of St. Paul’s Chapel all make for a great haunted atmosphere. On Friday, Oct. 28, however, the crypt was filled with many more laughs than ghostly music. SSO-Lol hosted their first stand-up comedy night of the semester in Postcrypt Coffeehouse, following Memento Mori’s debut on Monday.

The night showcased six diverse stand-up comedians, some past Columbians and some not. Host for the night, Shreyas Manohar CC ’18, kicked things off with a bit of topical humor, opening the evening by making a reference to Daniella Greenbaum’s recent controversial Spectator op-ed: “In the words of Martin Luther King Jr. …” Interspersed between acts, Manohar offered slices of his own standup set. While Manohar’s jokes can often come across as disjointed, as the evening’s emcee, he successfully segued in between other performers, adding commentary to each set.

Jokes regarding the current election, racial tension, and other pressing political manners would come to dominate for much of the night, as the comedians poked fun at everything from Hillary Clinton to Columbia’s stress culture to the Bhakti monks chanting the Hare Krishna in Times Square.

The first act of the night, Ahri Findling, engaged the crowd from the moment he took the stage. His talent lies in being able to make conversation with his audience, taking the time to ask about some of the more creative Halloween costumes audience members had worn and offering unsolicited counseling on college majors to a lucky few. “English majors, what are you going to be, a journalist?”

While his prewritten jokes about life in New York City were both well-delivered and relatable, the true fun in Findling’s routine arose from his spontaneous interactions with crowd members as he riffed on oddly-spelled names and made insinuations about drug-laden Halloween candy. As an opener to the night, he was hilarious—but he also proved to be a tough act to follow.

Next up was Ethan SP, from Chicago, who wasn’t afraid to jump right into the topic of diversity: His first question, “How many black people are here tonight?”, saw three people raise their hands, one of whom was a white girl who quickly put it back down after realizing what he had asked. “Well, that seems like a pretty accurate breakdown of the whole college,” he continued, before performing an uproarious set about growing up in Chicago (“where they murder people”) and go to school with gang members.

His mix of candidly hilarious anecdotes and fearlessness in telling them was fresh and engaging, and he drew enthusiasm from the crowd as well—especially with his joke about living your life like Jesus, “nine-to-five carpenter and part-time savior.”

Barnard and Columbia’s only all female long-form improv comedy troupe, Control Top, took the stage after SP, immediately soliciting inspiration from the crowd in the form of a word. An audience member suggested “eggplant,” which led to a series of at-times absurd and sometimes brilliant skits which fed off each other, troupe members switching the scene as they felt necessary by running through the current action. During the final scene, a woman dressed as a pumpkin entered the room to hand out candy to audience members. Due to the coffee house’s small size, she was quickly incorporated into the scene, leading to a bizarre end to Control Top’s set.
The latter half of the night’s performances progressed more quickly. Henrietta Steventon, CC ’18, started with a robust set but lost steam near the middle. However, she ended on a strong note by comparing Donald Trump’s nickname for fellow presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, “Crooked Hillary,” to an “old East European goblin legend that babushkas would tell their grandchildren—you can only get rid of her by whispering Benghazi three times.”

Former Columbia student Luke Mones, CC ’14, followed with a relatable, albeit slightly dry, monologue about the difficulties of life and dating as a 20-something in New York City. The true highlights of his set came in the form of various impressions of office coworkers, Russian therapists, and old Italian-American landlords.

To close out the evening, Brooklyn native Zach Swan took the stage. Unlike the previous two performers, Swan did not graduate from Columbia and joked that this is the closest he would ever be to being a member of the Ivy League. His set, like many of the others, touched on race-related issues in the form of his grandparents’ somewhat oblivious racist remarks. And while sometimes he did tend to drag a joke out long past the time it died, his enthusiastic delivery was commendable.

Racism, commitment-phobia, and near-death experiences on the subway are not funny under normal circumstances, but therein was the magic of the show: the performers’ ability to take things that scared them and make them hilarious. It truly was a “spooktacular,” as Mones repeated—yet what could have spooked us made us laugh instead.


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