Improv group plays for the biggest laughs

Spoiler Alert performs every Tuesday night at 10 p.m. at Tommy’s Place. According to group member Cameron Bennett, constantly practicing improvisational comedy teaches performers valuable listening skills. (Photo courtesy of Spoiler Alert)

Spoiler Alert wants you to have fun at its shows. However, there will always be people having more fun than you — the performers themselves.

Remember when you thought that winging that speech for your communication class would be easy? You know how that turned out. Imagine being in a group whose goal it was to wing, well, everything. Enter Spoiler Alert, an improv group founded in 2011 whose goal is to spread joy at USC. 

Spoiler Alert performs a signature long-form/short-form hybrid style of improv, which comes in two forms: the episode, in which the group improvises a 45-minute episode of a fictional TV show created from audience suggestions of genre and title, with “commercial breaks” consisting of improv games, and a mono-scene, which is one 30-minute scene that takes place in the same room with the same characters. 

The goal in each of these approaches to long-form improv is not to be the funniest person in the room. Rather, it’s to share truths that the audience can relate to. 

“There’s this philosophical idea in comedy and in improv specifically that the funniest thing you can ever do in any moment is tell the truth,” Liam Clancy, the president of Spoiler Alert, said. “The audience likes to see their lives validated in some sense because they want to know that they’re not alone, and by showing that relationships can be weird and complicated. That’s funny enough. You don’t have to try to tell jokes.”

Potential new members enter auditions, which consist of a group of four to five auditioners playing an assigned improv game while the group watches, according to Clancy, a junior majoring in economics and neuroscience. They “steamroll,” a term in improv that means making the scene all about themselves. During last season’s auditions, the auditioners that remained silent but handled the steamrolling situation in a mature fashion were the ones that stood out to Clancy and were among the ones offered callbacks. 

“The other thing we really look for in auditions are people who are different than our troupe now,” Clancy said. “Everyone in our troupe is very different, from a very different background, has very different hobbies, and that’s part of what makes us good. You can only improvise on stuff that you know, so we all like to have a very broad knowledge base.”

Spoiler Alert rehearses twice a week for two hours at a time. This is the only shared trait among their rehearsals. 

“We’re always trying to vary it up, do something different, practice a different muscle, practice a different skill,” said Cameron Bennett, a Spoiler Alert member majoring in economics. 

Sometimes, the group does compassion meditation sessions during which each person brings up a question about improv and a prompt about their day, and each person responds to what the others have posed. It allows the members of Spoiler Alert to enter the headspace necessary to begin improvising and to release some of the baggage of their day.

What began as an extracurricular for the members of Spoiler Alert has slowly influenced their daily lives. For instance, an improv rule from the Upright Citizen’s Brigade — an improv and sketch comedy group founded in 1990 — of noticing the first unusual thing in a scene has allowed Clancy to become more attentive to the interesting and humorous occurrences constantly around him. 

Bennett believes that improv has allowed him to foster the skill of truly listening to the people around him.

“There’s this other concept in improv … ‘yes, and’ … at the core of it, it means, the only way you can continue to develop your scene and add onto it and improvise is if you’re 100% listening to what the other person is saying and accepting that as the truth of that scene and then adding onto it,” Bennett said. “Like never saying no to what someone else is bringing to the table, always taking that idea, and that’s incredibly useful just in life.”

While growing up, Spoiler Alert member Ruby Marker felt that her comedy was perceived as irritating by others due to her gender. However, being a member of Spoiler Alert has given her a community that appreciates her contributions.

“Being around people that give 100% of themselves to support you … has made me understand how much people can be there for me and how I can feel free to be weird and myself,” said Marker, a freshman majoring in theatre. “I found a lot more confidence.” 

Spoiler Alert performs every Tuesday night at 10 p.m. at Tommy’s Place. Auditions for the group will be held this Friday, Sept. 6 from 5 to 7 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. and on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 1 to 3 p.m. outside of Taper Hall.