Staff Writer Sydney Contreras reviews the University Life Events Council’s Comedy in Quarantine event featuring Third Wheel Improv and comedian Arvin Mitchell.
“Who am I supposed to be laughing at?” was the question I had in mind for most of University Life Events Council’s Comedy in Quarantine show, which blurred the lines between audience and performer, demonstrating how watching and engaging with comedy has changed in the online world.
The evening began with a performance by Third Wheel Improv, a student improv group that will be collaborating with the Georgetown Improv Association this Saturday. Throughout the performance, Third Wheel asked for audience input at multiple points, using suggestions from the chat as the basis for their performance. Though the performers were not aware of it, the participation in the chat window continued well into their performance, as audience members added on to jokes, commented on punchlines, and cheered on the performers in turn.
Once the performance concluded, members of Third Wheel noticed the volume of messages and appeared touched; they were very receptive to the additional participation, and encouraged those active in the chat to attend open rehearsals next semester.
When comedian Arvin Mitchell began his set, the audience continued to engage with the performance. Mitchell described the strangeness of doing a set in front of a silent screen and encouraged the audience to put their cameras on and engage with him visually so he could gauge their responses, but many took to commenting their thoughts on his set in the chat. Mitchell was amazed by this direct window into the audience’s impressions of his set, but was flustered by the flurry of chats; reading these chats at various points in the midst of his performance clearly put him slightly off-kilter and altered the course of his set.
As a whole, Mitchell’s set was very much rooted in his personal experiences, life as a Black standup comic, and the ways in which the pandemic has altered day-to-day experiences for everyone.
Like the members of Third Wheel, Mitchell took input from the chat, answering questions about his personal life and incorporating these anecdotes back into his set. Mitchell was open about the negative toll the pandemic has taken on his life and his battles with mental health, even taking moments to include more serious advice for coping with these struggles, urging the audience to look for the silver lining in everything.
Though both Mitchell and the members of Third Wheel succeeded in putting on engaging, entertaining sets—a feat in and of itself in the Zoom era—the same engagement that made the performances intriguing detracted from the flow of their sets and became a distraction to the audience. Audience members were not merely commenting to demonstrate their approval or engaging during Q&A sessions; in making jokes of their own in the chat, the chat itself felt like a competing act at some points in the performance. Performers noted the same audience members consistently engaging with the performance and called them out by name; in one abrupt moment, one of these active audience members even unmuted and chimed in with a “question” that was more of a joke they were making themselves.
The problem with comedy shows is that most people who think to themselves, “I would love to attend a strange comedy Zoom event this fine evening,” are people who think they’re funny themselves. For this reason, the lower threshold for participation in this unique virtual performance became an integral part of the performance as a whole.
Overall, the event was actually quite meta; both acts ruminated on the necessary silliness of virtual comedy at various points in their sets. The event’s title did not lie. Comedy in Quarantine was more than your run of the mill comedy show; it was an exploration of how comedy has changed in the virtual landscape—for better and for worse.
Header via University Life Events Council Facebook