Arts and Entertainment | Theater

Comedic distractions: Third Wheel’s Spare Tires Improv Festival

A family ate Thanksgiving dinner at a TGI Friday’s while standing on their chairs. An awkward woman was eaten alive by a blue manta ray. A ghost danced around a Russian bathhouse. These are only a few of the improvised scenes that unfolded during the Spare Tires Improv Festival, Third Wheel Improv’s inaugural two-day festival last Friday and Saturday in Lerner’s Black Box Theatre.

Members of Third Wheel were inspired to create the festival after attending a similar event at Georgetown University last year. The group ultimately decided to branch out with its curation for the festival by including a lineup of groups at Barnard, Columbia, and other universities from around the country.

Third Wheel captured the audience at the end of each show as the only group to perform both nights, but the group did not overshadow the variety of admirable acts that came before them. Friday night’s first performance consisted solely of those from around New York City: NYU’s After School Improv, Columbia/Barnard’s Control Top, and Fordham’s Stove’s Cabin Crew.

The highlight of NYU’s performance was a scene they created about a strange woman named Gina who begins an affair with a man and his entire family, forcing his children to choose between Gina and their real mother. The absurd yet convincing family dynamics were engrossing, and the audience laughed with surprise and delight at each wacky turn the plotline took.

Though Control Top had some imaginative story lines as well, the performers’ dialogue was often tentative and awkward. Their lack of self-assurance was palpable to the audience, and it was at times uncomfortable to watch them stumble to find a story line. Meanwhile, Fordham set itself apart with the level of physicality Stove’s Cabin Crew used in its scenes, including one in which group members pretended to be fruit thrown around in a blender. Their dramatic physical movements made their set more visually interesting and gave the audience something to laugh at other than the verbal humor.

The second night of the festival on Saturday featured comedy troupes such as Bowdoin’s Improvabilities, Oberlin’s Kid Business, Columbia/Barnard’s Fruit Paunch, and the University of Delaware’s Rubber Chickens.

Bowdoin’s troupe used vivid imagery in meticulously describing a Russian bathhouse. Being able to so clearly picture the setting made the audience feel as if they were a part of the action, and the jokes even funnier.
Oberlin’s group was small but got huge laughs with their game “Sex with me is like...”. They asked the audience for a one-word suggestion off of which they created sentences such as, “Sex with me is like running. I did it in high school and not anymore.”

Fruit Paunch started off a bit slow, but the group kept its confidence up and its signature herald—the comedic device performers use which involves weaving one storyline throughout their entire set—came off feeling finished.

Delaware’s Rubber Chickens’ first couple of scenes were awkward and barely felt comedic, but the group found its footing in the end with some well-constructed characters.

Each night, Third Wheel included Columbia/Barnard-specific jokes into its set to please the home crowd. One character told the Office of Career Development that he aims to be on Broadway but “has never really travelled past 110th.” Cast members also created a scene in which “Kate MacKinnon” of the group SML, “Shaking My Love,” comes to give a motivational speech at Columbia. Her speech is heavily protested by Columbia students for being “insensitive towards gluten-free individuals and their allies.”
Yet, the best joke of Spare Times ultimately came from Fruit Paunch, which pretended to be a group of Vice News journalists pledging celibacy to the publication to the meditative chant of “om, Vice News.”


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