A group of witty students sits in the writer’s room, suggesting ideas for its next scenario. One student, improvising as a character, delivers a random line on the spot. The group laughs and immediately writes it down. After a while, the members start to edit the written material obsessively for several days. After painstakingly reviewing every word, they are is ready to rehearse, with their focus on delivering energy. Months of rehearsals later, the group waits behind a curtain, as an audience is ready to see a fully animated sketch comedy performance. Let the show begin.
Founded last year by seniors Derl Clausen, a theatre and law, history, and culture double major, and Miles Woods, a narrative studies major, Fourth Quarter All-Stars is one of USC’s few sketch comedy groups. According to Clausen, sketch comedy is essentially a stage performance of that conversation someone has with their friends in which they attempt to make the other person laugh harder by telling a new joke. Clausen and Woods maintained this level of energy when they were developing this group with alumnus Kyle DeCamp because everyone was cracking up at each other’s jokes. The group then rented Massman Theatre to hold their shows.
Fourth Quarter All-Stars jokingly deems itself USC’s “Worst Sketch Comedy Group.”
“We realized that it doesn’t matter what we title our shows or even our group really,” Clausen said. “Most of your audience will ultimately be made up of friends and some word-of-mouth. We like to have slightly antagonizing and mostly self-deprecating titles to make sure everyone knows we’re super edgy.”
The team displays this edge through their heavily satirical jokes, although they do have try to have a wide array of other jokes, too. Particularly for Clausen, making the audience feel uneasy with jokes, whether absurd or self-aware, is fun to do.
An example of this could be found in the routine that Clausen and Woods both consider their favorite. In the scene, the group asked one audience member to play a “fun, silly, Jimmy Fallon-style audience participation game.” The group asked the participant two questions, but then the act took a turn when it suddenly asked the person to guess Woods’ race, which was even more effective with the dramatic lighting.
Stage manager and set designer Wendy Hui, a freshman majoring in theatre design, and light designer Edward Hansen, a freshman majoring in theatre stage management, both contribute greatly to the technical aspect of the performances. Sometimes, this added factor of lighting and sound can punctuate a joke and help switch the format of the act.
Adding small refinements such as playing rap music during an act where an Uber driver tries to make his guests listen to rap music about being an Uber driver adds so much more to the scenario. Clausen believes that if Hui and Hansen weren’t part of the team, the shows would be merely cardboard cutouts of a sketch show.
The group believes in highlighting this comedy because it puts writing as its top priority when creating a sketch comedy performance. Even if someone is not writing the script, they still have a part in the process by contributing ideas, even if it is as simple as having good energy. Recently, Clausen and Woods discussed the difference between the writing and rehearsal processes. They realized that writing was more taxing and could make them exhausted after only a few hours, whereas rehearsal was much easier and quicker.
“You can do four hours of rehearsal, bust out the blocking and performance on four to five sketches and go home feeling accomplished,” Clausen said. “[But in] the writer’s room, you can walk out of a four to five hour session with only a crude drawing of your least favorite troupe member.”
The members stress attention to detail in their writing because they write material with characters and themes that people can recognize. Even though the group decides what it includes in the sketches, everyone in the team has different inspirations for what they specifically want to write about.
Clausen and Woods originally wanted to form a new sketch comedy group instead of joining a pre-existing one because they believed that they had such weird and specific ideas, and they wanted to write in their own voices.
Fourth Quarter All-Stars’ philosophy is to start the sketches from a real place and then elevate them through humor. The group may use a place like Los Angeles as the foundation of its sketch comedy or satirize topics like job interviews or even people from the Bay Area. In general, however, the group often tackles specific absurdities in college culture today.
Both Clausen and Woods were largely inspired by Derrick Comedy, Donald Glover’s New York University sketch group. Woods honored Glover by making short videos of the same comedic tone. Clausen personally felt a strong connection with his first real group of friends when watching sketches together as they would tear up from laughing so hard and, eventually, come up with their own ideas. He considered this the moment when he fell in love with this kind of comedy, and he hopes that Fourth Quarter All-Stars will have a similar effect in helping its members.
“The goal ultimately is that after being on Fourth Quarter All-Stars, you can write sketch comedy and you can write it really, really well,” Clausen said. “The performance will, hopefully, follow.”