Though its namesake New England soup is often tasteless, Chowdah Sketch Comedy is anything but bland. The conversation floating around during even a very informal Chowdah rehearsal is loaded with sexual innuendo, sarcasm, and strange foreign accents.
Yet despite the rapid-fire exchanges of both witticisms and dirty jokes between members, this elite comedic team is also skilled at making an audience feel included in its camaraderie. The group’s pride in bringing high-quality humor to the Columbia campus is evident, and one can tell that the members truly love showing off what they do.
Hilarity ensues this weekend as Chowdah, which proudly take its inspiration from popular comedy shows such as Saturday Night Live, launches its fifth year of activity with an election-themed show. There have been many changes in the troupe this year, including the introduction of a consistent narrative to thread the sketches together and a cast that is two-thirds new. The hour-long performance is the result of five weeks of script writing and two weeks of rehearsal, but despite the quick turnaround, it still manages to seem professional.
Chowdah director Sasha Stewart and producer Michael Grinspan, both CC ’09, have spent four years acting and writing with the group. Though the political subject of their newest show is very real and prevalent in today’s media, they wanted to add a unique twist to make things more interesting.
“We tried to take it [politics] into the realm of fantasy and cartoon a bit,” said Grinspan.
This meant creating a Republican candidate who is the zombie reincarnation of Ronald Reagan and a Democratic one who is merely a figment of the party’s imagination. Watching these two characters argue back and forth about the economic crisis and international affairs is both entertaining and surprisingly believable. Other interesting additions to the mix include a third-party candidate with a mysterious genealogical secret, and a senator who thoroughly embarrasses his pre-teen daughter on national TV.
“By taking this [the election] a step away from what’s actually going on, it makes it more fun,” said Stewart.
And though they’re currently testing their jokes on the campus crowd, Chowdah’s members also hope to make comedy a career. Said Stewart of the Chowdah team, “we all want to be professional comedians,” whether through acting, writing, or directing. Chowdah members have benefited from exposure to the New York entertainment scene—many have met or worked with experts in the field, and a few have interned with The Colbert Report.
The benefits of such valuable experience are easy to see during Chowdah’s performances—the writing is intelligent and the jokes well-played by a talented cast. Grinspan and Stewart are especially noteworthy performers, who pull off ridiculous lines with ease and carefully honed timing that displays their comedic expertise. The first-years, newly inducted into Chowdah, show promise despite this being their first performance with the group. Grinspan and Stewart hope that these first-years will help expand Chowdah in the coming years and make it a campus mainstay.
“We’re still a relatively new group,” said Stewart, but Chowdah’s zest for humor makes up for the lack of history. While the Varsity Show may have seniority, Chowdah has a style all its own. As Stewart added, “we like to take ridiculous aspects and heighten them to the extreme.”
Chowdah performs Friday, Oct. 24 and Saturday, Oct. 25, at 9 p.m. in Wien Lounge. A $3 donation is suggested.