No Story Too Serious for Bowdoin’s New Improv Group

The members of the newest campus improvisation group, Office Hours, have trained themselves to see the kernel of humor in every situation.

In their campus shows, they invite audience members to contribute a true story based on a prompt, such as a bad haircut or a bad break-up. “Anything you remember, it’s because it was unusual. It broke from the routine of life,” the group’s founder, James Jelin ’16, explained. “And anything that’s unusual has comedic promise. We can exaggerate it by one step, pull out something and put it in a new context and find a comedic angle.”

Once they have a story, the six Office Hours members play off of themes they have individually gleaned from the anecdote. One or two of them will jump onto stage, making up a short skit on the spot that often will inspire the other actors to join in as new characters. “It’s a lot of fun to start with the same raw material and see how we use that, and how it exposes our comic sensibilities and how we differ from each other,” Jelin said.

Jelin started the group this fall after being inspired by the type of improv the Upright Citizens Brigade practices. Upright Citizens Brigade is based in New York City, and is known for giving many comedians, including Amy Poehler, their starts. “They have this very structured approach to developing comedic ideas, and they have a language for how a group of improvisers can develop an idea together,” Jelin explained.

Last September, Jelin held tryouts for members, picking his cast based on their talent and their willingness to approach improv as a practiced skill. The group includes Sophie de Bruijn ’18, Maggie Seymour ’16, Justin Weathers ’18, Collin Litts ’18 and Sam Chase ’16. “I wanted people thinking about it as a creative, artistic thing that takes a lot of work and doesn’t come naturally,” Jelin said. The group practices together more than seven hours a week.

Later this month, Office Hours will take on an ambitious undertaking. The group has invited President Clayton Rose to the stage to share some of his personal stories.

Jelin said he thinks students will appreciate hearing stories about the president and his life. He added, “I think it should be fun for President Rose, too, because it’s always fun to see how people take your life and turn it into comedy.”

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