Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Comedy Jam brings something to laugh about

By Dave Coffey

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This past weekend, Student Valley Productions hosted their 14th annual Comedy Jam, aptly titled “Comedy Bowl XIV”. With a total of 15 performers over a span of two night showings, this year’s Comedy Jam was surely one to be remembered. With acts ranging from stand-up to musical comedy and everything in between, each piece managed to draw raucous laughs from a packed crowd two nights in a row.

Both evenings started out with a musical opener. On Friday night, it was, Ryan and that guy, a duo of acoustic guitar and sparse percussion. On Saturday night, “Doo Wop Shop,” UMass Amherst’s only all male a capella group, opened the show. While both musical acts were entertaining, Doo Wop Shop’s performance was perhaps the most impressive, featuring a stunning version of the Beatles’ classic “Come Together” as well as an original number in their three-song set.

Student Valley Productions consists of three comedy groups: Improv With Attitude, Mission Improvable and Sketch-22. As would be expected, all three groups performed at the comedy outing, with IWA performing on Friday and Mission Improvable and Sketch-22 performing on Saturday.

Improv With Attitude, UMass’ only long form improv group, delivered as per usual with a batch of off-the-cuff yet hilarious scenes with seemingly endless energy and wit. Notable scenes include one in which two fathers pit their sons against each other in competition, and a scene in which two scientists create a “quadropus” that kills people upon sight. While one’s initial reaction might be to say, “You can’t make this kind of stuff up,” Improv With Attitude did just that, with side splitting results.

Mission Improvable also brought their own brand of improvised antics through short-form improv comedy games. The result was somewhat akin to the once highly popular “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” television show in which the participants enact short comedic scenes with various “rules”, the subjects of which are shouted out by the audience. Perhaps the most notable thing about Mission Improvable’s performance (besides the arguably funniest scene with the “Vietnam War Musical With No Music”) was that Mission Improvable, who announced themselves as a “family-friendly” comedy troupe, was able to draw just as many laughs as the other performers without once resorting to cursing or sexual innuendo, which didn’t seem to stifle their appeal whatsoever – even to a college audience.

Sketch-22, however, went in the other direction, with several edgy and off the wall prepared scenes that left the crowd in stitches every time. With great writing and near-perfect execution, their sketches, including a dynamite opener satirically showcasing, “How Billy Mays really died,” absolutely killed every time.

In addition to the three Student Valley Productions comedy troupes, SVP invited several other performers, both collegiate and professional, to join them on the stage over the two nights of comedy.

Two other improv comedy acts were invited, namely BOOT and Los Dos Dudes. BOOT, billed as, “The Valley’s newest long-form improvisation troupe,” brought a solid improv performance despite only having half of their four-man lineup on duty. While their premises were perhaps a little limited (“Name a movie with the words, “Star Wars” in it”), scenes such as one discussing how Princess Leia “hit it” with Chewbacca garnered a good deal of laughs. Los Dos Dudes, who closed out the first night, are an improv duo based out of Chicago. Their high energy scenes, such as one about two kids at a laser-tag party gone wrong, left the audience still laughing as they exited the auditorium.

Several sketch comedy groups were also invited to the jam. Aaron & Dave: Kings Among Men were the only sketch comedy group to perform the first night, and sported several irreverent yet tightly written and performed sketches, both in person and on film. For a two-man team, their performance was highly varied from sketch to sketch, with the best being the live “Bees In My Hair” sketch, and the hilarious “Twilight: Moon Bites” video about emo-vampire breakfast cereal.

Pangea 3000, a professional sketch comedy group who performed second to last on Saturday, was arguably the funniest act of the entire event. Comprised of writers and performers who regularly contribute to The Onion and College Humor, Pangea 3000’s sketches were unanimously well-written, well-rehearsed scenes about premises that one might not think were that funny if not acted out in such a precise and clever manner, such as a scene about a spelling bee in which all the words were flatulence noises, which left the entire audience in tears and uncontrollable laughter.

While stand-up comedy was slightly under-represented at the jam, two performers with two very different deliveries drew significant laughs with their stand-up stylings. Spencer Fredericks, a UMass Amherst student who performed on Friday evening, nailed college stand-up comedy perfectly, with raunchy and no-punches-pulled material about sex and killing his siblings. Team Submarine, a New York based professional comedy duo, employed an unusual-yet-effective variety of two-man stand-up, which closed the event with roars of laughter over discussions of the perfect pizza jingle.

Several performers brought to the event their very own brand of unique musical comedy. Kinda Fancy, a.k.a. Carolyn Drzik, performed gentle, sweet-sounding songs with just ukulele and voice, which juxtaposed perfectly with hilariously outrageous topics, such as wishing she had more casual sex and did more drugs in college. McClellz 4 U, a comedy boy-band from the Amherst area, presented two music videos that featured hilarious auto-tuned musings about Shia LaBeouf and their love for Wings Over Amherst.

One of the most notable performances of the entire event, however, belonged to MC Mr. Napkins, a.k.a. Zach Sherwin. Sherwin, a comedy-rapper, showcased his clever absurdity as well as his fortuitous rhythmic and rhyming abilities by spitting ferociously humorous lines about random topics, including his lack of “street cred” and trivia about Benito Mussolini. The highlight of his act, however, was a song in which he rapidly references several famous YouTube videos, including “Charlie Bit Me” and “Dramatic Prairie Dog,” while sampling audio from the videos referenced.

As usual, this year’s comedy jam attracted sell-out crowds both nights, and hopes to continue to do so for years to come. For more information, visit studentvalleyproductions.com.

Dave Coffey can be reached at [email protected]

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