Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

December 11, 2012

IU Kokomo senior creates improvisational comedy troupe

By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer

— Indiana University Kokomo student Uriah Pittman tried to return a package of used adult diapers to a fictional store last week.

He had no idea that’s what he was returning, though. Pittman fished for clues to guess what ridiculous item he was holding during the improvisation game Return Counter.

“We can’t take this back; it’s used,” said fictional store clerk Emilee Benge.

Pittman assured the clerk he didn’t use it. His wife did, he said, still not knowing what he was holding.

The students sitting in IU Kokomo’s cafeteria burst into laughter.

“Don’t say that about your wife,” Benge said. “She’s a lovely lady.”

Pittman started putting the pieces of the puzzle together when Benge made an inconspicuous reference to babies and old people.

“So you’re not going to take back this dirty baby diaper?” Pittman asked, finally catching on to the ruse.

Benge paused a moment before saying, “It Depends.”

The audience at the comedy show laughed again.

Benge said she and the other eight members of the Sum Antics improvisation group feed off of that laughter.

Sum Antics, the university’s only student-run comedy troupe, is Benge’s brain child.

She created it last year as part of her senior project for a theater class.

“It was a lot of work,” Benge said.

She went through the tedious process of establishing a new student group on campus.

Then she had to promote it enough that other students would try out to be a part of it. She held her first auditions and selected seven new members for the group, she said.

But the hardest part of all, she said, was establishing a reputation among other students as a “real” comedy group.

“They thought it was a joke at first,” she said.

It’s something group members take seriously, Benge said. They practice for two or three hours once a week, perfecting their craft.

Members bring in new games to try out. Benge said they figure out which ones they’re best at and focus on getting better at those.

Among the group’s favorites are Casanova and the Dating Game.

The Dating Game requires three group members to assume interesting personalities or quirks and compete for a date. They answer questions and give hints about their personalities, so the eligible bachelor or bachelorette can figure out who each is supposed to be.

In Casanova, group members take turns tossing out pickup lines to an audience member. The lines are supposed to be specific to the audience member’s job.

At last week’s show, the audience member was a bartender studying to be a nurse.

“I hear you’re going to be a male nurse,” group member Matt “Bama” Rasmussen told the man. “Want to play formaldehyde and go seek?”

Benge said their shows are always so unpredictable. That’s part of what makes this type of comedy so difficult, she said.

Audience members help shape the show by tossing out ideas for some of the games. Last week, students in the cafeteria decided Pittman was going to return the adult diapers in the Return Counter game.

That kind of audience participation forces group members to think on their feet.

“I never know what my group is going to say,” Benge said.

Sarah Farenc laughed and said that was definitely true.

She said IU Kokomo Chancellor Susan Sciame-Giesecke was sitting in the audience when the group started talking about drug houses.

“It’s good,” Farenc said of the show. “Then it can go bad, but it’s always funny.”

Benge said she warns people the public shows contain adult content, but it hasn’t seemed to hurt them. Their humor has received a good response from people, she said.

“A guy I work with, who never has anything good to say, watched our show and said, ‘I felt like I was watching a really good episode of “Whose Line Is It Anyway,”’” Benge said. “That’s a great compliment to us.”

Sum Antics’ first show last year drew about 60 people.

Now, they do at least eight shows each year. Their most recent Ugly Christmas Sweater show brought in 100 people.

Benge said there’s no other student group of its kind on campus.

Students from all backgrounds and courses of study have found a home in Sum Antics.

They all have a flair for the theatrical, but each brings something different, group members said.

Sofia Stout said Rasmussen is “really loud and obnoxious” when he performs, and group member Mary Olk is always making faces.

Stout is considered the group’s resident optimist – always encouraging everyone.

Stout said she loves the whole group. She had just one thought when she saw a Sum Antics table at a student activities fair.

“I thought, ‘Ahh, family; you’re my people,’” Stout said.

Stout is one of six women in Sum Antics this year. Females outnumber males 3 to 1, which Benge said is unusual in an improvisation group.

“This has served as a stepping stone for girls to step out of their comfort zones,” Benge said. “We’re promoting confidence and self-assurance.”

Farenc said it’s also a good form of group therapy.

“With all the stress of school, it’s good to just be funny for a couple of hours each week,” she said.