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The laughs continue via Zoom with UCLA’s student-run comedy club

The Shenanigans Comedy Club at UCLA is trying to keep audiences entertained through virtual stand up sets. (Screen capture by Tanmay Shankar/Assistant Photo editor)

By Aaron Untiveros`

May 19, 2020 6:12 pm

Zoom sessions have never been funnier.

The Shenanigans Comedy Club at UCLA is adapting to social distancing orders to keep their audiences, and each other, laughing. Members from each department – which include stand-up, sketch, improv and digital sketch – have stayed committed and meet on a weekly basis as the club continues to upload content online, said club president Akila Rajesh. However, Rajesh said their online event turn out is much larger than their usual in person events.

“I think people have more free time now so they’re able to come to (our meetings),” Rajesh said. “It’s also easier because you don’t have to walk anywhere.”

[Related: Creatives continue to create through entertainment industry’s pause amid pandemic]

The live Zoom stand-up performances average about 10 club members performing for four minutes each. Rajesh said the format of the hour-long show gives performers a chance to use new comedic material they wrote for their performance or refine and test out some past favorites.

After restrictions were put into place as a response to the pandemic, she said the club is fortunate to continue delivering comedy via online platforms, compared to other campus organizations that rely heavily on physical collaboration. The online stand-up events have attracted an average of 50 audience members on Zoom which is more than their usual in-person events, Rajesh said.

Although attendance has benefited from live-streamed performances, the online format is a comic’s nightmare, said co-head of the stand-up department, Michael Pile. Perhaps one of the biggest issues performers now face is not being able to hear the reaction of audience members, he said. This has led Pile to experiment with certain decisions like whether to keep everyone muted or giving audience members the ability to unmute themselves. Ultimately, Pile said playing around with the settings will help mitigate some of the awkwardness of trying to attempt stand-up comedy alone on a laptop in a bedroom.

“We want to improve our craft and be better comedians, and it’s pretty hard to do that,” Pile said. “Did it go over well?, how can I improve? – that kind of information that you get (from the environment) is lacking, but we still have an opportunity to show off what we’ve been working on.”

[Related: UCLA’s first ballet company a safe haven for pliés, dégagés and fun]

However, the digital sketch department, where members write, act out and record sketches for the sole purpose of being uploaded online, are also facing their own array of challenges, said incoming president Jessica Block. The third-year linguistics and psychology student said their sketches are typically filmed in-person, and they have now been uploading their previously recorded sketches. Recently, they uploaded their first sketch made entirely on Zoom titled “Socksame Street” on YouTube where Rajesh can be seen as the judge for various sock puppets auditioning for a role on Sesame Street.

As the club runs low on their surplus of prerecorded material, Rajesh said they are also brainstorm ways to record their sketches to maintain an online presence. She said this includes recording the sketches individually and making stories out of screen recordings.

“(Screen recorded stories) are stories that don’t necessarily take place in the physical world and more so on a laptop or through text messages,” Rajesh said. “I think that kind of story is something that’s going to be more popular because of the way the world is heading in terms of people living their lives online.”

Meanwhile, the improv branch of the comedy club has been solely focusing on performing and providing feedback for each other during the pandemic, but Block said that changes May 19. Their upcoming show, titled “Men Aren’t Funny,” will be the first online Zoom performance from the club’s improv team in collaboration with the stand-up team. This all-women show is one of the most widely attended events of the club, and Block said her purpose in launching the show was to highlight women’s contribution to the stand-up industry.

Although men won’t be participating in the show, there will be many more opportunities for all members, she said. More Zoom events are scheduled throughout the rest of Spring quarter, and the club plans to keep performing on Zoom until restrictions are lifted. Regardless of the difficulties presented by the online format, however, Rajesh said the high attendance paints a hopeful future for the comedy club as members continue to improve their craft.

“This is the time when you need clubs more than anything,” Rajesh said. “I’m really glad (our club is) still running because it’s more than a comedy club – it’s a group of friends that you get to see and talk about funny things with.”

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