Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 16, 2024

Buttered Niblets prep for improv tournament

By AMANDA AUBLE | March 12, 2015

In their fifth performance of the year, the Buttered Niblets invited fellow improvisational comedy group The Loaf to join them onstage Friday night in the Arellano Theater. Tickets cost $3 and donations were accepted as the Niblets prepare for their trip to this year’s National College Improv Tournaments held in Chicago.

After meeting the Niblets at the regional level of the College Improv Tournament, The Loaf, from Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., agreed to join the show, which happened to fall during their spring break.

To liven up the crowd, each Loaf member stated their name and a type of bread, ranging from cheese bread to monkey bread. They then asked for an audience member’s phone in order to read a recent text. After finding inspiration from the text’s use of the word “surfadelic,” the Loaf moved into a longer improv session without any breaks between the different games.

The Loaf’s imagined scenarios generated mild laughter as the focus somehow shifted from “surfadelic” to recurring references to the movie Shrek.

Humor escalated as one Loaf member even claimed that the voice of Shrek told him to murder his friends after they refused to re-watch the fairy tale classic. Although upbeat and entertaining, the Loaf’s unstructured improv performance sometimes felt muddled as settings and characters changed without much warning.

The Niblets finally took the stage by acting as a family shopping in a haberdashery, a location provided by the audience. In this game, the Niblets were able to freeze the scene whenever they so pleased.

After a debate about Judaism, one character chose to transform into a Jewish superhero. After this shorter performance, the Niblets entertained the audience with a longer improv plot which first took place in a Christian mailroom. The scene moved from the mail employees adding religious text to letters, to a world in which humans could no longer poop. Morris Kraicer stood out with his portrayal of the “secret pooper,” who snuck into the background of random scenes. This generated big laughs. The plot ended with Matt Morris’s character, chosen to be the world’s only “defecator,” in a nativity scene. Despite the weird, even taboo focus, the Niblets smoothly connected each scene within this performance.

Another long-form improv game started with the audience placing the Niblets squatting under an overpass. This plot line also flowed well, as the Niblets used their own judgments to switch in and out with each other but still maintained the scene’s basic plot. This time, the audience was taken through Janitor College and ended up with an underground carnival completely run by rats.

“I know we all had a great time with the long form. We did a montage, and it felt really tight and focused. Pretty much all of the scenes got a lot of laughs and were technically sound, which was really heartening because that’s all we are doing at Nationals,” Niblets Member Zeke Goodman said.

The Niblets showcased their quick wit in the game entitled “Question This,” a mock game show with contestants ranging from a spacey pilates instructor to a Nazi war criminal trying to maintain an American persona.

In this game, the characters chose their own categories, and audience members shouted out words that fit into that category. After the host, played by Kraicer, decided on a particular word, the contestants had to create a clever response in the form of a question. Neil Chapel in particular made the crowd laugh with his response to the word “elliptical.”

“What’s that thing when you make your friend laugh only using his lips?” his character asked. “A lip tickle.”

Overall, the Niblets used their time on stage to explore wide ranges of characters with some absurd traits.

“On a personal level, I had a really fun time with the games I performed in. I did one where we acted out wishes of our characters and another that was a fake game show. Both of those games offer the chance to explore characters and their quirks in a really fun and silly way,” Goodman said.

Although successful at generating laughter and keeping with a general plot structure in their longer pieces, the Niblets sped through shorter sketches. For instance, after receiving a location from the audience as a playground, two of the Niblets acted out activities that kids would usually do at the park. Although it was comical and even relatable to see one Niblet try and fail to do an imaginary pull-up, the scene lacked direction and spontaneity. It was a short scene, and it ended where it began, with one Niblet failing to hang from the jungle gym bar and one sitting mundanely in a sandbox.

This year’s National College Improv Tournament (CIT) will be held on March 14 in Chicago’s Vittum Theatre. Regional competitions featured 125 teams from across the nation, but now the competition has become slimmer. Each of the approximately 12 teams remaining in the tournament will have 20 minutes to perform any kind of improv they choose, ranging from the long, short, narrative and even musical.

“I think we’re looking at [the CIT] as a great opportunity to meet other improvisers from around the country. Plus, we get some national exposure. It’s really exciting to represent a part of Hopkins that doesn’t always get as much recognition, but more than anything, we get to take a group trip and have some fun doing something we love for a bunch of people,” Goodman said.

Last year, the competition featured 135 teams competing at the regional level. Tall Grande Vente, the improv group from the California Institute of the Arts, won the national title for the 2013-2014 year.

According to the tournament’s website, the competition aims to connect different improv groups from across the country.

“CIT is a celebration of college improv disguised as a competition,” their mission states. “We aim to foster the growth of the art form for college improvisers as players and as teams. We aim to help foster a sense of community among college improvisers both on a regional and national level. We also aim to help get college improvisers seen by professional improv directors and producers.”

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