Comedy Gold: Charred Goosebeak

Richie Rosen, Staff Writer

Dying is easy; comedy is hard. 

So the saying has gone for decades. Standing in front of a group of people and trying to make them laugh is a really hard thing to do. Even if you’ve never actually stood up on stage and performed, think about a time when a friend turned to you and said, out of the blue, “hey, do something funny.” Don’t you always seem to draw a blank? 

It takes some serious guts to do any form of comedy, but improv comedians are an especially different breed. The beauty of improv is that all of the humor is generated on the spot. Comedians can’t practice their jokes or their delivery, as everything is on the fly. Now, if you’ve never heard of improv before, you might be scratching your head and wondering how this is even possible. Well, three of Colgate’s best-and-brightest comedians, juniors Sophie Neugarten and Lizzie Nash, as well as senior Brennan Troy, discussed some of the tricks of the trade to provide some insight into all things improv. 

Neugarten, Nash, and Troy are all members of Colgate’s premier improv comedy group, Charred Goosebeak, but they took very different paths to get there. Nash was a seasoned vet from the start.

“I did improv all [throughout] high school. My school offered improv classes as one of our arts [requirements], so I actually took improv freshman through senior year,” Nash said. 

Neugarten, on the other hand, was the rookie.

“I had absolutely no experience with improv prior to Charred Goosebeak. I have an older friend who goes here from my high school, and when I was coming to school she was telling me how one of her friends was involved with Charred Goosebeak. And I was like ‘that sounds so cool.’ I’m always looking for ways to be involved on campus, especially in ways that I think would be fun,” Neugarten said.

Troy was also new to improv when he started with Goosebeak his junior spring. 

“I joined Goosebeak because I always was interested in writing comedy and as a creative writing major, I was also interested in acting. After I met some of the senior members it was a no-brainer. I had never done improv before and was super nervous going into the audition. [It was] definitely nerve-racking, but at the same time hilarious. Anyone who tries out just puts themselves out there and it is awesome,” Troy explained. 

Regardless of prior experience levels, these three have burst into the Colgate comedy club scene with gusto and bona fide skills. 

What’s their secret? Team chemistry. Neugarten, Nash, Troy, and the rest of the Goosebeak crew have developed a camaraderie that is absolutely essential for an improv group to be at its comedic best. 

“One of the things that we pride ourselves on is having really good group chemistry,” Neugarten said. “We hang out twice a week and go to social events with each other. It’s really nice because when you’re in a scene with someone, you know that you can trust them to carry on that scene; you know that they are going to support you, and that is really important in improv. Every single person in the group is just so awesome, and it’s really nice because we all are joined by our common love of being funny and making a fool of ourselves. It just makes for very funny interactions between everyone.” 

Like Neugarten, Troy also feels a shared sense of group chemistry and closeness to other Goosebeak members.

“Goosebeak’s culture is the best thing ever. Being a part of a club lets you tap into groups on campus you wouldn’t normally meet. I have met some of my best friends at Colgate through Goosebeak and I could not imagine doing anything else,” Troy said.

“Even when we’re not performing, the room that we’re in is never dull with [sic] laughter. Everyone is constantly cracking jokes; even if we’re just talking about our days, there’s always something that someone can spin into a joke or something like that,” Nash added.  

Having that general comedic sense is an important skill for any aspiring improv comedian because off-the-cuff humor is the name of the game. Improv performances have a really unique dichotomy between the audience and the performers. Audience members play a major role in dictating what the comedians on stage are actually doing. 

“In order to make [the comedy] authentic we’ll ask the audience  ‘hey give us a non-geographical location’ or ‘give us a relationship,’ and then we use that in the context of a structured game to guide the scene. We never want to say ‘okay we’re gonna be this’ because then there would be no authenticity […] It’s cool because you just have to go on the spot, you have to go with what you’re given. You’re improvising,” Neugarten explained.

“Before shows, when we’re preparing, the only thing that’s set in stone is who is participating in what game. So we’ll have four games in one show and we’ll be like: ‘Sophie is gonna participate in shift left and ABCs [both are types of games]. And so everyone participates in two of the games, but that’s the only deciding factor going into a show. Once we’re put up on that stage, even if we had been doing scenes about a carnival or igloos in practice, we could get up there and someone could say ‘funeral’ and we have to do a scene about a funeral,” Nash said. 

Improv comedians don’t just have to roll with the punches, they have to tango with them. Dealing with nerves is one of, if not the most important thing that performers need to get under control. It isn’t an easy thing to do, but it can be incredibly rewarding in ways that go beyond the stage. 

“One thing I would highlight is that, yes, being in Charred Goosebeak [is a commitment]. You have Thursday meetings, you have Sunday meetings, and you have shows. But what it actually gives you is so far beyond those four hours a week,” added Nash. “Every day, I go about my day and I feel like I’m able to speak on my feet quickly and problem solve […] I would really just highlight those and say [to someone thinking of joining] ‘yeah it’s a really goofy group of kids, we do this weird and funny thing,’ but also it has totally shaped the person that I am today.”

“I love that through Goosebeak I am able to give my friends a solid hour of laughs and a unique experience that you would not be able to get anywhere else in Hamilton. You can go to any comedy club you want in New York City, but in Hamilton, we are it and that’s pretty cool,” said Troy.

“I wasn’t necessarily super comfortable in front of a large group of people before, and I definitely think that doing improv has changed me as a person because I’m not afraid to speak in front of a group of people anymore. I would say, if you’re looking for a group of people who are so genuine, down-to-earth, [and you] want to have a good time, crack jokes, it’s a great way to meet other people and get involved on campus,” Neugarten said.

Charred Goosebeak plans to host its first show the last weekend of September.