Smack dab in the middle of midterms season, campus juniors Hannah Garriott and Kavi Mehta just spent a whirlwind February weekend in Chicago. Along with their four fellow improvisers in campus improv group TBD Comedy, they pulled off a second-place win in the West Super division at the 2017 College Improv Tournament.
In the group’s six-year tenure at UC Berkeley, it was the first time TBD had made it to nationals — a pretty big deal considering the group is the smallest it’s been since it began. And what a fitting place to hold an improv competition: Chicago comedy institutions Improv Olympic and The Second City trained sketch giants such as Amy Poehler, Steve Carell and Mike Meyers. Garriott and Mehta found, however, that their onstage style is much less structured than what is taught at those comedy training hubs.
“We are a very laid back team,” Garriott said. “There were some teams who were very intense and it was a little bit intimidating because they would march out onstage and be like OK, let’s do this!’ ” You won’t really see TBD exhibiting such a hands-on-hips, peppy demeanor. They’re just themselves.
That much was clear during my conversation with the pair. It seems oddly appropriate for two improvisers to arrive with rice bowls in hand, Mehta donning a full tux and Garriott in a Batman costume. (Well, they may have asked me to say that.) We ended up chatting on the floor, criss-cross applesauce. How’s that for laid back?
During TBD’s set at the competition — each team had about 20 minutes to perform in any format they pleased — they decided to perform longform, opening with a monologue based on an audience suggestion and transitioning into a fully improvised set. Garriott and Mehta recall the suggestion being “leaves.” By the unthrilled looks on their faces during the interview, “leaves” definitely wasn’t the most ideal opening topic, but they made it work.
Garriott’s co-director Lena Gavenas gave a monologue about growing up in Washington, D.C. and TBD then performed a set expanding on bits from the story, with plenty of laughs along the way.
TBD doesn’t stick purely to longform in their sets, however. Garriott distinguishes the troupe from others with its attention to narrative and efforts to create sustainable, relatable characters in their sets.
Mehta saw similar styles amongst the West Coast troupes while in Chicago. He saw the East Coasters’ work as very upbeat and focused on one-off jokes. “(West Coast improv) scenes went a little bit longer,” Mehta said. “We had a few more somber moments so as to explore the environment and create more of a world.”
That’s not to say that TBD’s style is smarter or more thoughtful than those more quippy teams. The rapport within the group has simply bred a dynamic fit for a more character-based narrative style.
Of the team members — also including Lena Gavenas, Megan Morey, Michael Lando and Sam Gunn, a Daily Cal staff member — Garriott and Mehta are the most senior, having been in TBD for close to 3 years. For them, the audition process has essentially become a vetting process for potential pals.
Improv is vulnerable and honest, the most in-the-moment of any comedy format. When auditioning for improv, the primary goal is to choose people you can trust enough to go into uncharted comedic territory with. “You see potential in a friendship … which means you see potential in their abilities to make connections with people (onstage),” Garriott said. You can’t just jump into that wild environment without seeing spark and potential in the people you’re goofing off with. (Besides, no one wants to work with a weirdo.)
Over the course of her time with TBD, Garriott has found that hanging around and becoming close friends with funny folks might be the best part about performing improv. “I’m terrible at making friends because I don’t really reach out to people,” she said. “(But) I like funny people. Comedy is sort of a language; they understand what you’re saying without you having to further explain yourself.” The group has held audition after audition together, spent long nights prepping for shows together, and it has now spent a weekend in Chicago together.
“We have a running joke that’s like ‘auditions aren’t just for finding our team members; We’re finding our lifelong friends,’” Mehta said.
With the competition behind them, the TBD crew devoted the rest of its time in Chicago going out into the city. Somehow they wound up celebrating at a bring-your-own-booze sushi spot, a niche eatery if there’s ever been one, yet never more appropriate.
TBD Comedy will be performing its improv show “We Lost!” on March 10 at 8pm in 102 Moffit.