Making Ohio University Laugh

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If you've spent time at Ohio University, you may have caught some comedy shows at Mem Aud, including the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Margaret Cho or Second City.

But OU doesn’t just host comedic talent — it produces it.

Dozens of students perform weekly in front of live audiences as members of Blue Pencil Comedy or Black Sheep Improv. And many of them go on to hone their craft after their Athens years.

Last year’s Blue Pencil president and 2013 graduate Eudora Peterson has since seen her video "Interview with a CEO" appear on The Huffington Post.

Former OU Improv president Jessie Cadle, who also graduated in 2013, now moonlights as a performer and producer for Arcade Comedy Theater in Pittsburgh.

"Almost everyone I know that has been a part of improv has continued to make improve a priority in their life," Cadle says of her fellow Bobcats. "Once you get the bug, you really can’t get rid of it."

Black Sheep Improv: The fine art of saying “yes!”

Black Sheep Improv president senior Hannah Ticoras stands in front of a live audience and asks for a word, the single prompt that will begin a series of mini-skits, all made up on the spot. "Fabric!" someone yells, and the student troupe is off.

Practicing long-form improv, the performers will follow what Ticoras calls "the biggest rule" of improvisation — the "yes, and!" concept that one performer accepts whatever prompt a fellow performer gives him or her and adds to it.

Soon all the characters are pretending to wear identical uniforms, because they’re prisoners. From there, the scene morphs into a "Scared Straight" episode between the prisoners and juvenile delinquents.

"You know that movie Shawshank Redemption?" one of the prisoners yells menacingly. "I stole that from the video store."

Black Sheep Improv's Jessie Rovniak, Chase Montavon and Bridget Rho Gam perform during the Bellwether Improv Festival at Ohio State University (photo: Colleen Miracle)

Next thing, they’re engaged in tryouts for a prison production of Oliver Twist ("We prepared a two-person monologue.")

"I loved the idea of just making up worlds — I’m an English major so that’s kind of the thing that I like to do," says Ticoras, who hopes to continue doing improv after graduating, at least part time.

Quite a few Black Sheep (formerly OU Improv) alumni are doing just that in Chicago, Pittsburgh and elsewhere. Black Sheep’s two eight-person troupes perform free shows weekly in the Baker Center Theatre.

"What we do is very strange, it’s very weird and a lot of people don’t understand it," Ticoras allows. But plenty of people do enjoy it, and the often-packed Baker Theatre is proof.

"It’s just fun all the time," she added.

Meet the student comedians of Blue Pencil Comedy as interviewed by E.W. Scripps School of Journalism senior Chealsia Smedley in the full version of this story, which appears in the Spring 2014 issue of Ohio Today. To request a copy, call 740-593-2639.

Ohio Today is funded by The Ohio University Foundation and is mailed to alumni and friends free of charge in fall and spring.