Comedy is no joke. And it has a growing community here at UCF.


Comedy is no joke.

And it has a growing community here at UCF.

"Orlando right now is just a really big city for comedy," said Sean Hyatt, a senior economics major and stand-up comedian. "You could go out every night of the week [to perform comedy], which is the important thing because that's how you get better."

Hyatt hosts stand-up shows every week and also attends improv shows.

It is becoming more commonplace for stand-up comedians to try improv — and vice versa, Hyatt said — because it's good to expose yourself to everything you can.

The Improv Academy — or TIA — where Hyatt and about 40 to 50 others are learning improv, is a free club on campus. Improv comedy refers to comedy, skits or scenes that are made up on the spot.

"There's an improv theater in downtown, Sak Comedy Lab, but it costs money and I'm so broke because of college, and I can't afford it. So the fact that there's a club here is really cool and there's a lot of funny people there, too," Hyatt said. "I've met a lot of good friends through there."

Not only does Zack Wright perform on campus with TIA, he also performs with a group of students in bars around Downtown Orlando.

"I do [perform] a lot," Wright said. "I organize the shows for the academy and I also teach one of the levels. I still have my own team off campus and I write a lot of stuff with different people for shows."

Wright said he learned improv during his high school years, with a group of friends in a garage watching YouTube videos and trying to replicate them. TIA teaches the art of improv a bit differently, however.

"The way we teach it now, it's an academy style; it's very like, 'Here's the curriculum, here's what you're going to learn, here's all these set demonstrations of practices,'" Wright said.

Others bring up the aspect of writing and acting in learning and performing improv.

"Improv is a lot like acting and writing at the same time, and requires that you work with others to do it in front of an audience," said Alexander Bair, a senior musical theatre major. "Obviously people who have acting experience or creative writing experience start with a leg up, but everyone is always learning and improving. The qualities of the best improvisers are teamwork, imagination and flexibility."

But improv is more than just getting on stage, Bair said..

"There are different styles of improv, some that are plot based and some that are character centric," Bair said. "They're kind of like genres of music. Everyone has a style they gravitate toward, but a good improviser should be well-versed in as many styles as possible."

Drawing inspiration for a joke can come from personal experiences, such as hanging out with friends and having something funny happen, or it may not be about you at all.

"It's like when you hang out with your friends and someone makes someone laugh really hard — we just put that on paper and go up and try to do it on our own," Hyatt said of stand-up comedy.

For improv, though, Wright tells a different story.

"[With] stand-up and sketch comedy you're very in your head, you have to memorize everything and you have to know when to hit a certain joke and stuff like that," Wright said. "And improv is more like, if you're not just kind of letting it go, it's going to fall apart really fast. If you try to bring too much control to it, that's not a good thing."

In past semesters there were stand-up shows put on at Wackadoo's in the Student Union, hosted by Ryan O'Toole, a former UCF student who now lives in Los Angeles pursuing comedy. O'Toole also hosted shows at a local comic shop called The Geek Easy.

"It was absolutely essential that I did the things I did in Orlando before coming here," O'Toole said on moving to Los Angeles. "I was able to start from the beginning and get through the rough early years of learning comedy without already being in the big cities. I got to be at a school with 60,000 kids and literally nobody doing improv [or] shows on campus. You have to learn how to write jokes, make friends and be patient in a smaller scene before moving up to a bigger scene like New York City or Los Angeles."

O'Toole is now studying at the Upright Citizens Brigade Training Center, taking improv and sketch-writing workshops while doing shows and releasing his own material independently.

With stand-up, he said he has to start over at the bottom, doing open mics and working his way up the Los Angeles comedy scene.

"When you do an open mic, it's like the first thing you go to and you know none of the comics," Hyatt said. "You go up and you do your time and if people like you they'll start asking you [to go to] places."

Not all open mics go smoothly the first time, and Hyatt compares performing at an open mic to waiting for a roller coaster; it's nerve wracking, but also fun.

"It's like, you know, you hang out with your friends and crack jokes, and then [at shows] people have their arms folded and they're looking up at you and you're like, 'Oh, come on guys, what do you expect from me,'" Hyatt said. "It's a lot of pressure because you have the microphone, there's no music and no one's talking, so everyone's just focused on you."

Wright also spoke of some pressure when performing improv.

"When it first starts off there's a lot of pressure, it's really kind of a scary experience, but honestly after you've done it enough times it's like second nature, it's not a very difficult thing," Wright said.

The Improv Academy puts on a show every week at the UCF Performing Arts Center. Details about upcoming performances can be found on their Facebook page, "The Improv Academy at UCF (TIA)."

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