It’s mid September, the time of year that heralds fall-flavored lattes for most and, for a brave, funny few, the start of comedy club auditions.
Long-established University institutions like IMPROVidence, Out of Bounds, Starla and Brown-Rhode Island School of Design Stand Up Comics will hold auditions, and throngs of eager students will compete to fill the few coveted spots on each team.
The University has produced a number of alums who have gone on to achieve great comedic success, most notably actor John Krasinski ’01, “The Office” star who, in his 2019 Brown Baccalaureate address, credited his experience with sketch comedy group Out of Bounds for “changing his entire life.” A number of recent University graduates have had success pursuing comedy and comedic theater in New York City after graduation.
One exciting New York sketch comedy duo, Katherine Dunham ’19 and Claire Sise ’18, recently collaborated with animator and RISD alum Lindsey DeMars to create “Welcome to Hell,” a two-minute animated sketch that will be screened at the widely acclaimed Brooklyn animation festival “Animation Block Party” later this month. Dunham said she and Sise became “wicked good friends” during their tenure with improv group Starla and Out Of Bounds. They met DeMars through Brown-RISD Stand Up Comics and instantly knew they wanted to work with her.
“She’s a great friend of ours and has an incredible way of creating visual jokes through her animations. We were so lucky to get to collaborate with her on this,” Dunham said. “Welcome to Hell” features the Devil interviewing one of Hell’s newest arrivals. The sketch was also one of eight that Dunham and Sise wrote and filmed for their new sketch show, The Up&Up, which they are currently submitting to festivals. The cast and production crew consisted entirely of current and recently graduated Brown and RISD students.
Kimberly Saltz ’17, a former member of improv group Comic Sans, has performed several stand-up sets at Gotham Comedy Club in New York, a venue that helped launch the careers of world famous stand-ups like Jerry Seinfeld and Dave Chappelle. The first time she performed in Gotham’s New Talent Showcase, she was informed a few minutes before her set of a last minute change in the night’s lineup — she would follow national headliner Jim Gaffigan who was testing out material for his Noble Ape tour.
“It was like, oh, no pressure, just follow one of the most successful comedians in the world. And I did,” she said.
Now in her second week as a student at Georgetown Law, Saltz was a major player in Comic Sans during her time at Brown — the only student improv group that accepts members without audition. She didn’t try stand-up until the spring of her senior year, when Skorts — a student-run musical sketch comedy group for women and other marginalized genders — organized an informal show.
Saltz’s stand-up material is largely inspired by her personal life — examining life after graduation and dating in New York City. “A lot of people have told me I ruined Tinder for them. They can’t unsee the things I’ve said,” she said.
“There’s something empowering about taking moments that were uncomfortable and turning them into something for myself, something funny, something entertaining that we can all laugh at,” she added.
Brendan George ’18, a veteran of IMPROVidence, moved to New York the summer after his graduation and immediately started auditioning . He was cast in a small theater production just 10 days after starting his search, which was “a really encouraging start,” he said.
In addition to landing a number of exciting theater gigs since, George just finished shooting the first season of a dating reality TV show where he serves as a co-host. “It may never make it to television, but if it does, I can assure you that 90% of my lines are unscripted and improvised,” George said.
He credits his experience in IMPROVidence with shaping his personal and artistic perspective, as well as giving him a skill set that is a major asset in the New York theater scene. “Even in the audition room, casting directors have told me point blank, ‘we called you in because you improvise,’” he said. George also performs stand-up in Brooklyn.