Toast! Improv lets a diverse group of students take risks together while entertaining.
The phrase “improv comedy” often comes with stereotypes, namely the idea that it’s only done by extroverts who live and breathe theater. However, Toast!, the oldest improv group on USC’s campus, provides a counterexample, according to the group’s president, Alexandra Herstik.
Don't worry if you don't have an acting background or haven't performed in countless productions in high school.
“[The club is] actually pretty mixed,” Herstik said. “I actually did theater in high school and did improv as a way to keep performing, and just fell in love with it, but we do have a lot of people who have never done any sort of performance, and we all come from varied backgrounds, which I think makes the group dynamic even more interesting.”
After hearing Toast! described by its members, it’s not difficult to understand why people do improv. After all, it just consists of playing games onstage several times a week, and it has benefits off the stage.
“I get to play around with my friends on stage and make people laugh, so it’s a really great combo. Also, improv is like one of those things that kind of carries over into everyday life,” Herstik said. “You end up thinking really quickly on your feet.”
Herstik’s favorite game is called “I Like My…” In it, the group gets the audience to suggest an object, such as a pineapple. They then take turns coming up with sexual innuendos by filling in the blank: “I like my women like I like my pineapples: _____!” (e.g., “wet and juicy”).
However, being characterized by literal fun and games doesn’t mean improv is less of an art form than any other type of performance.
“It’s definitely an art form,” Abi McNeely, third-year student, said. “It is different from, like, acting in a play, but I do think it should be taken seriously, even if it isn’t serious all the time.”
While Toast! isn’t the university’s only improv group, it does maintain a good relationship with USC’s other group, The OverReactors.
“The main difference [between Toast! and The OverReactors] is that The OverReactors have open practices, and you can audition for shows, while we only have auditions at the beginning of the year, and then it’s closed rehearsal for the rest of the year,” said Herstik. “We’re buddies, though. We love and support one another.”
Those who have seen an improv show know how quickly it can have you choking with laughter, but this doesn’t mean the art form is not built on some serious work and vulnerability on the part of the actors.
“It is [hard to be funny] sometimes,” said McNeely. “I think you’re just born with it. That’s so dumb to say, but I think it’s all about timing, and I think it’s all about listening to your partner and picking up on what could be funny, because listening is a huge part of improv anyway, and the thing about standup is that it’s written and then you perform it, but when you do improv, nothing is written or set in stone. You have to have complete and utter trust in whoever you’re in the scene with, and if you have enough trust in someone, you’re going to make something cool and funny out of it.”