The Colgate Scene
November 2006

Good show
Charred Goosebeak improv troupe performs at Del Close Marathon

[Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]

It's noon on a Sunday in late July, and the eight members of Charred Goosebeak, Colgate's improv comedy group, bound across the stage of the Abingdon Theater in New York City.

They bounce around like pep rally cheerleaders, just the kind of overblown antics you'd expect from hyperactive second-graders -- or improv comedians. The excess energy might be nerves, too. After all, this isn't just another Colgate show at the Barge Canal coffee shop; it's a performance in the eighth annual Del Close Marathon in the Big Apple.

The marathon at three New York City venues features 48 straight hours of improv by 150 groups and honors Del Close, the late Chicago-based comedian who had a huge influence on comedy giants Bill Murray, Mike Myers, and others. Charred Goosebeak was accepted to participate after member Kyle Levenick '07 was inspired to put in an application for the group.

"Last year I came to the marathon and stayed for a good seven or eight hours straight," said Levenick, a Delaware native who often treks to New York to catch comedians. "This was something we could definitely do. I brought it up to the group and we all thought this was a great chance to take it beyond Colgate."

Levenick is a natural leader on stage, transitioning the show from chaotic grand entrance to opening exercise. He solicits the 40 or so audience members for a skit suggestion and immediately accepts "shoes."

On cue, the performers shift. Adam Samtur and Jason Kaplan -- both 2006 grads making their final Charred Goosebeak performances -- join Levenick at center stage.

Levenick crouches, fiddling with his foot, as Kaplan approaches. The salesman shtick is obvious before anyone speaks, and is confirmed when Levenick gives his foot a last lingering look, then asks for a ladies' nine. The joke works: the audience laughs, pleased with the mere seconds it takes to set up the scene.

Kaplan disappears to an imaginary storeroom at stage right, leaving the customer alone for Samtur to snag. Sure enough, when Kaplan returns -- mimed shoebox in hand -- a brawl erupts between the two as competing salespeople. A fourth performer, Nick Gillette '06, jumps into the scene. The audience laughs as they watch him sweep up the customer and take over the sale.

Then another performer runs across the stage to signal a "redraw," or scene change. The person who cues the new scene always opens it with some kind of mime or monologue, often on stage just a few seconds before another group member joins in.

"Over the last few years we've worked on `group mind,' which is reading where someone is going with a scene and knowing when to end it," said Samtur. "You need to know when to jump in. You have to know you're never alone out there."

Samtur and Kaplan are a perfect example. On stage, they're huge personalities, Samtur with his theatrical stage presence and Kaplan with his over-the-top physical comedy. Yet they manage to complement, not compete, adding to each other's charades. A year in close-dorm quarters -- they roomed together their first year -- may have also taught them a thing or two about sharing.

The show continues in the kind of extended long-form improvisational comedy developed by Close, in which one gimmick -- in this case shoes -- is played out over several smaller "beats" with new jokes being introduced and expanded.

They visit cancerous worms, Canada jokes, and an effeminate husband (Kaplan) with a taste for "fakon" (not bacon). The biggest laughs come from a highly animated bowling sketch that features Kaplan and an extended scene in which Gillette acts as a blind baseball announcer, uncannily convincing in his showy sportscaster voice.

The show is a tight 30 minutes, and finishes with a flourish.

"Bringing it together has to be constantly on your mind," said Gillette. "What makes a good show is that one final laugh."

Steph Wortel '06, who has seen Charred Goosebeak perform several times, spent the summer working as an admission tour guide at Colgate and road-tripped to see the show. "It's great that they did the marathon because it gives them a chance to see their peer groups and really find out their strengths," she said.

It was their first performance outside Colgate since a competition at Skidmore College two years ago -- and it's also not the first Charred Goosebeak success story. The group formed at Colgate in the late '80s, the brainchild of five students (Jay Chandrasekhar '90, Kevin Heffernan '90, Steve Lemme '91, Paul Soter '91, and Erik Stolhanske '91) who now call themselves Broken Lizard and make nationally distributed films, such as the cult comedy classic .

Feature films aside, Charred Goosebeak gets more popular on the Colgate campus each year. Approximately 30 students auditioned for just a few open slots this year. Campus performances have doubled in the past four years, increasing from about three a year to three or four a semester.

Of the Del Close performance, Kaplan said he was nervous beforehand, "but it all vanishes the second the lights go up. We all love being out there, just doing our thing."

After graduating cum laude with an art and art history major, Benson did a summer internship at Cosmo Girl in New York City. She's pursuing a career in magazine journalism and writes a column for the private webspace New York Commons, created by Bruce Crowley '79 and Jennifer Lattif.
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