Not a single person is still. All around there is hopping, jumping, clapping and chanting. Kanye West’s “Ni**az in Paris” fills the small, curtained room with energy. Three groups form, laughing, shaking and shuffling their feet against the concrete floor. They make up skits, jokes and stories. To an outsider, it may look like an oddly placed summer camp.
But these games are not mere child’s play. These games are just part of Friday night rehearsal for Cal Poly’s improv-comedy group, “Smile and Nod.”
Smile and Nod is a Cal Poly club founded in 1998 of 21 “team-members” who perform Saturday nights for the Cal Poly community. They do two shows, a “short-form” (two teams playing improvisational games) and a “long-form” (scene-based improvisations) performance at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., respectively.
They rehearse Fridays and Sundays, sharing joke ideas, body language tips, on-stage training and strategies for off-the-top-of-the-head thinking. But mostly, the team just likes to play games and have fun.
“Because of Smile and Nod, it’s very hard to go a whole weekend without laughing,” theatre arts senior Matthew Herman said.
Herman, who has been doing improv for 10 years, said he loves spending his weekends with a “whole bunch of people, being a part of a good time.”
Herman said the fun “is not just a one-way street” and that when the audience is laughing, he knows he’s accomplished his job.
Economics junior and Smile and Nod co-manager Kolby Hatch echoed that sentiment.
“I think there’s just moments where you’re onstage and you see the audience laugh, and you get your self-esteem up,” Hatch said. “People are accepting you because they’re laughing at you.”
In a typical show, the audience can expect to see the comedy club rolling on the floor, playing out scenes of exaggerated romance, inventing invisible avocado computers and creating stories of frogs, barking infants and naming every hot-dog joke imaginable — and more.
Hatch, who has been on the team for three years, said improv comedy “attracts a certain type of person — and that person is super chill. They’re really fun to be around. I don’t know if you noticed, but practices are just having fun and running around.”
Hatch said even though his economics major is a far cry from comedy, “I like spending a bunch of time with creative people and getting the creative juices flowing.”
For liberal arts and engineering studies senior Joshua Lee, who grew up being “the entertainer in my family,” on-stage comedy is nothing new.
But standing in the spotlight did not come easily for everyone on the team.
History junior Byron Bennett said he “was the nerdy, quiet guy” growing up and had no idea how he ended up in an improv group.
Today, Bennett said the most difficult part of being in Smile and Nod is “fighting the ego.”
“You’re just a limb in one body,” Bennett said. “We’re creating an atmosphere of complete unity.”
Lee, a team member for the past four years, agreed.
“We have to be in each other’s heads,” Lee said. “You become a tight-knit group, but it can be kind of difficult to get there.”
Aerospace engineering junior Travis Cox said Smile and Nod team members, current and past, have an “amazing connection.”
“A (graduate) once told me that these are the people you have at your wedding and the people you celebrate your imminent divorce with,” Cox said. “So I think ‘family’ is the right word to describe it.”
Co-manager Hatch said he knows he is in the right place every time he walks onstage.
“It’s like being a kid, but people like to watch you,” Hatch said. “People pay to watch you be a kid. It’s less of a club and more of a fraternity, and we really harbor that each quarter. We try really hard to do a good job.”
Hatch said this year Smile and Nod is taking on some big changes and is working to transform the team into “a comedic brand as opposed to a college club.”
The team is following in the footsteps of former college improv teams such as the Harvard Sailing Team and Funny or Die, and will start putting up videos to gain an online audience.
Smile and Nod holds its Saturday performances in H.P. Davidson Music Center, room 212. Seats can be reserved online or at the door for $5.
Though Smile and Nod is full of laughs and giggles, becoming a part of the team is serious business.
“It’s pretty tough to make it,” co-manager Kolby Hatch said.
Hatch said approximately 60 people generally show up for the first round of auditions each quarter. The top 10 or so continue on to a second round of improv competition where the final few make the cut.
This quarter, Smile and Nod had three new comedians join the team: psychology junior Lily Conboy, theatre arts junior Mitchell Owens and theatre arts sophomore Nick Corcores.
This was Corcores’ second time auditioning for the team.
Corcores said after watching a show his freshman year, “I took to it immediately, I just thought it was the coolest thing ever.”
“I thought, I’m kind of funny, I could do this, and so I told myself I’d like to be on team,” Corcores said.
Theater helps Corcores find his personality onstage.
“It sounds silly, but just knowing what it’s like to be onstage and feeding off an audience comes into hand,” Corcores said. “I’ve never done a Smile and Nod show in front of an audience … but (being a theatre arts major) will definitely be an advantage, I think.”
Corcores will test that theory at his first long-form show on Feb. 23. For now, he’s practicing his puns and improv strategies.
“At this point I’m just excited,” Corcores said. “Nerves haven’t really played into it yet, but I’m just looking forward to it above all else.”
Corcores said he is very happy to be a part of the team.
“I just want to be a helpful component and bring energy, wits and showmanship,” he said. “I don’t really care how well I’m doing as long as what I’m doing benefits the team.”