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Improv comedy festival crashes Ohio State

Joe Podelco / Lantern photographer

The word is “duck.”

Now, with about 300 people watching, improvise scenes that are both coherent and funny.

That was the name of the game at the third annual Bellwether Improv Festival, which took place Friday and Saturday evenings in the Ohio Union’s U.S. Bank Conference Theater. It featured 15 improv comedy groups from OSU, Harvard, Georgetown and many other colleges, as well as three professional groups from New York and Chicago.

Nearly every seat in the theater was full when the first group took the stage. Fishbowl Improv was one of five teams with OSU comedians and kicked off the festival to roaring laughter at their display of long-form improvising.

Long-form improv comedy is taking a random word suggested by the audience and creating multiple scenes on the spot based on that word. Every group performed this type of set, creating scenes from words like “rainbow,” “bubblegum” and “oral.”

The audience’s reactions to those scenes only added to what 8th Floor Improv president Kevin Bauer thought of the evening.

“I’m really happy with the turnout,” he said. “I know Ohio State audiences are incredible, so I just want to pack as many kids in there as possible.”

Bauer noted that most comedians have to work to get the crowd on their side, but not at Bellwether.

“It’s a known thing in the college improv community that Ohio State has unbelievable audiences,” Bauer said.

Bauer performed in multiple groups over the two-day festival, including 8th Floor and Dutch Company, but when planning the festival began at the end of the last school year, he knew exactly what he didn’t want.

The group knew that they didn’t want Bellwether to be a competition because bringing a competitive vibe would diminish any networking and friendship opportunities, Bauer said.

“When there’s no competitive aspect, everyone’s having fun, which is always better for improv,” he said.

“(Competition) makes it awkward and puts a wrench in the works,” Bauer said. “I feel like that really changes the way you watch it as an improviser and then also the way you improvise on stage.”

The chemistry the performers had onstage was one thing audience members picked up on.

“They found their own niche within the improv community,” said Kabe Eichenauer, a first-year in education. “Each (group) brings a different … type of improv, so it’s interesting to get another group’s take.”

Evin Bachelor, a first-year in history and political science, said the diversity in comedy was refreshing.

“It’s a unique art form,” he said. “The diversity each of these groups has in their own right pretty much covers everything we could ask for tonight.”

With that type of audience reaction, Bauer’s goals for the weekend were met.

“(My) ultimate goal is to expose as many Ohio State students to the different kinds of improv as possible,” he said.

Columbus has a really developed improv scene and Bauer wanted the festival to expose OSU students to it, he said.

“I love it and I feel like a lot of other people would love it too if they just knew it was there,” Bauer said.

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