Of all the student groups on campus, there’s only one that can lay claim to the stretch of lawn outside the Bovard Auditorium next to the Tommy Trojan statue. Commedus Interruptus, the oldest comedy troupe on campus, holds court there every Friday at 1:00pm, performing their unique brand of chaotic short-form improv comedy for anyone happening to be passing by.
“People don’t need to know the date or time,” Lola Gilmore, a member of Commedus Interruptus, said of their weekly lawn takeovers. “It’s really taking performance and making it accessible to all people, no matter what they study, what their interests are.”
Commedus Interruptus (which this year consists of SDA students Ava Bunn, Lola Gilmore, Quinn O’Connor, Nathan Hicks, Alex Nimrod, Asher Wolf, Kamryn Tate, and Hannah Moore) traces its roots all the way back to 1989, when stand-up comedian and then-senior Don Friesen started the group. They’ve been bringing their brand of improv to the Trojan Family ever since.
“We love bringing people into our show. We get suggestions from people walking by, and then they’ll stay and watch one scene, and they’ll move on. It’s fun to rope people into our scenes,” Commedus Interruptus president Ava Bunn said. “We’ve had times when a jazz band will set up across from our show and just start blasting music, and then we have to incorporate that into every scene we do going forward. We commit to it because we love it.”
A breeding ground for comedy
One of the unique aspects of the group is their annual workshop process, wherein they audition potential members and then put them through a four-week intensive training course. At the end of the process, they decide on which new members will be able to join the group. The workshop process has a dual purpose: it ensures the members who actually do make Commedus are a close-knit bunch, like a family, and it allows people with no prior improv experience to potentially join the group.
“I had never done improv before doing workshop, and in those four weeks I was taught from the ground up the basics of improv: What it is, what to do, what to avoid doing, and through that I was able to get on the team,” Gilmore recalled. “Without that, I probably wouldn’t have been able to explore improv at all.”
The workshop process has also allowed the formation of other improv groups on campus. Of the improv groups at USC, several were formed following participation in Commedus’s four-week workshop. While some members may not have gotten into the group, they took what they learned and kept doing improv comedy together. In this way, Commedus Interruptus has helped spread opportunities to participate in comedy throughout the campus.
“We’re trying to create, in the least creepy way possible, a breeding ground for new comedy troupes,” Bunn said.
In addition to their weekly short-form improv shows on the lawn, they host annual 24-hour improv events, alumni shows, and their biggest draw, their end-of-semester sketch comedy shows. The sketch comedy shows take place the last week of classes, and in recent weeks they sold out the Massaman Theatre three nights in a row.
The group also does a number of social events together, including an annual Spring Break trip to what the members describe as “weird locations.” Recent trips included sojourns to rural Utah, and to “Middle-of-Nowhere Sonoma County.”
“We kind of just put names in a hat and pick a location,” Bunn laughed. “And things like that, going out and living life together and experiencing new things, I think that makes us comfortable doing weird things together, and also, when we play guessing games on the lawn, we have a bit of a mind-meld. Because we’ve all hung out so much, we all just get it.”
Taking big risks for big laughs
One thing Commedus Interruptus takes pride in is the group’s willingness to take risks and go out on a limb.
“Something that we keep coming back to in this conversation is the Interruptus of it all,” Quinn O’Connor, another member of the troupe, said. “I feel like there’s a lot of risk-taking in a growth mindset kind of way, in regards to doing things so publicly and getting random reactions from people walking by. We enjoy celebrating the risk in this art form.”
Commedus Interruptus will be taking over the lawns weekly again in the new semester starting January 13th (“Ooh, Friday the 13th! That’s a big one!” the members cackled, rubbing their hands to together in anticipation of the possibilities) and recruiting new members in their annual audition and workshop at the beginning of the school year. In the meantime, you can catch them on the lawn, taking risks and creating guffaws from passing Trojans.
“That’s improv,” Bunn said, recalling a time in a recent show that she flipped over a table and spilled Oreo crumbs all over the floor. “You’re gonna get Oreos between your toes sometimes. That’s how it goes.”