William Paterson University’s First Comedy Festival


Courtesy https://twitter.com/ComedyClubWPU

Olivia Biel , Staff Writer

Rain poured down on campus Thursday night, March 21, but at 7 p.m. the Black Box Theatre was full of laughter. Thursday kicked off the Theater and Comedy department’s first Comedy Festival, a four-day event featuring improvisation, stand-up, sketch and one-act comedy in the program’s most ambitious event to date.

“The comedy program is really growing,” said festival director and producer Lexi Cullen-Baker, who teaches comedy classes at the university. “We’ve done smaller shows in Hobart Hall before, and the next natural step was bringing everyone together.”

The Pioneer Players, William Paterson’s improvisation and theatre club, took the stage the first night. The club started with short-form improvisation games, including “Buzz,” “Space Jump,” “the Dating Game,” “Lazy Susan,” and “I Like My Women.” In each, host Kellyn Barnes took suggestions from the audience, which the Players used to create scenes.

“The Dating Game” was particularly well-received. Barnes asked the audience to give each of three “contestants” personality quirks. From the suggestions, the Players decided which their characters would possess. The character traits chosen were “one member doesn’t know he’s on a dating show,” “one thinks she’s at an interview for an office job,” and “one thinks that the man the contestants are competing for is Dr. Phil.”

In the night’s next segment, the Players performed long-form comedy for the first time ever on the William Paterson campus. Until Barnes shouted “scene,” the Players used the audience suggestions to improvise an on-going skit. The suggestions were “going to a waffle house” and “breaking up a four-year engagement,” which were based off of actual students’ experiences in the past two weeks. From deadly staplers to affairs with clowns, no one in the audience kept a straight face.

The night ended with a game of “Freeze,” a university favorite. Two players at a time start a scene, and after at least 5-7 lines someone can yell “freeze.” The two players then freeze in place, the player who called “freeze” takes over their role in the same body position, and starts a new scene. The process keeps going until the host calls “and scene.”

Audience members also answered Barnes’ invitation to join the fun. Barnes expressed her satisfaction with the outcome of the night. “This club has been my life,” said Barnes, a senior who joined the Pioneer Players as a freshman. “I love these people, they’re family.”

The following night, student and professional New York City comics performed short stand-up routines to a larger crowd. Joanne Filan opened the night with jokes about dating websites, cats and being a lesbian. “My husband couldn’t make it here today,” Filan said. “Because I don’t have a husband. I have a wife.”

The other professional comics who performed were Rob Santos and Olga Namer. Ethan Lyte, Kasey Arnold, Kate Lawlor and Richie Vigliotti were the student comics.

Current student comics and alumni came together Saturday night for “Sketchfest,” where they performed the Theatre and Comedy department’s most popular sketches over the years.

Courtesy of Yulliet Ruiz

Among these was a commercial for “Brosetta Stone,” a guide to millennial slang for confused parents, and a sketch where stickers of puppies and scratch-and-sniff fruit were portrayed as drugs.

A member in that crowd was alumni Kasi Cassidy, who holds the record for the most sketches written in a class. “It was a fun experience to see how the program has grown,” Cassidy said. “Years ago, I don’t think something like this would be possible.”

The festival concluded Sunday afternoon with a series of students’ one-act plays and screenings of student comedy videos.

Several students worked alongside Lexi Cullen-Baker in directing the Comedy Festival.

“It was hectic but fun,” said CJ Von Essen. Von Essen is president of the Pioneer Players. In addition to directing, he acted in the improvisation show, Sketchfest, and the one-act plays.

“The goal was to let students know that [comedy] is an actual career that they can do,” said Cullen-Baker.

The Comedy Festival was coordinated by Dr. Elizabeth Stroppel.