Relatable comedy: WSU’s Nuthouse troupe provides laughs for locals

Nuthouse Improv Comedy Troupe admits to being just like other improv groups, except their scenes are shorter, and they can joke about the mayor.

click to enlarge Left to right, Cameron Overturf, Joe Seguin, Jonathan O'Guin are members of the Nuthouse improv comedy troupe at Washington State University.
Left to right, Cameron Overturf, Joe Seguin, Jonathan O'Guin are members of the Nuthouse improv comedy troupe at Washington State University.

When Washington State University students formed the troupe in 1999, “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” hosted by Drew Carey, was big on TV, and the group of students wanted to branch off from the official theater department.

"So many groups are high-brow and do long-form comedy, which is a group of actors doing an hour-long scene ... but Nuthouse has always been short, bursts, four-minute scenes,” said Nuthouse director Jared Chastain, a WSU History major. “It’s very raw to what they started Nuthouse as. They’ve adapted new games and taken more ideas, but it’s always been this kind of electric and fast thing.”

In an hour-long show, about eight cast members can go through 10-20 games or scenes, each around four minutes long.

It’s kind of even more difficult that way, because actors have only four minutes to make a joke and make a strong joke,” said STAGE public relations director Sarah Tisinger, a WSU vocal performance major. “I go in as an audience member, and I’m laughing at one subject for four minutes, and then the next and then the next.”

Chastain, as host, takes audience suggestions for game or scene selections, then provides stage actors with the challenge.

We have open games, which is people talking about a relationship they have, like a married couple or father and son. Or, there’s a guessing type game, where there’s hidden information, where one person doesn’t know, and they have to guess,” Chastain said.

In the game Your Place or Mine, actors must act as if they’re in different locations, challenging the other actor to guess where they are.

One person’s in McDonalds and the other person is in Disneyland, and they’re acting as if they’re in McDonalds or Disneyland on the date, and the other person doesn’t know that,” Chastain said.

He said the game could go something like this: “This place is so amazing,” Actor One says. “Yeah, it smells awful and it’s terrible,” Actor Two says. “The children look so happy,” Actor One replies. “Yeah, they look sad,” Actor Two answers.

Chastain enjoys the game Moving Bodies, too, where dummy-like actors are operated by volunteer audience members. The actors have dialogue, and the audience members are in charge of moving their arms, tilting their heads or sometimes even leading them to kiss.

Audience participation, much like in Moving Bodies, is crucial to improv, and Chastain said it’s best when the audience does anything but laugh.

People have already signed up to laugh,” Chastain said. “But when the audience doesn’t, in that they have another reaction like sad or happy or even offended, it's really good. It’s something that they weren’t prepared to do, so it’s genuine and honest.”

Let’s say a celebrity recently died, Chastain said, the offended sound of “Ohhhh” or “Ouch” can prove a joke’s success.

Because Nuthouse is housed in Daggy Hall for both rehearsals and performances, Chastain said humor is made relatable to the area. They make jokes about Pullman, Albion, Colfax and Moscow, which bigger improv troupes can’t do.

It’s fun to play off what’s going on in our world,” Tisinger said. “And it helps the audience relate.”

Nuthouse will host two WSU Dad’s weekend performances at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday in Daggy Hall. Tickets are $5 and may be purchased at the door by cash, check, debit or credit card.

Treffry can be reached at (208) 883-4640 or ltreffry@inland360.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @Lindsey Treffry.

->if you go: WHAT: Nuthouse Improve Comedy Troupe performs WHEN: 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday WHERE: Daggy Hall, corner of Northeast College Avenue and Southeast Idaho Street, WSU campus COST: $5

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