Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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In a spacious and comfortable classroom in the Jacobs Center, a struggling recording artist murdered Paris Hilton with a Krispy Kreme doughnut because she wouldn’t sing on his album.

Granted, the struggling artist was really a Kellogg Graduate School of Management student, and Paris Hilton was nowhere near Northwestern at the time. Not to mention the fact that it’s probably impossible to kill anyone with a pastry.

However, The Laughing Stocks, Kellogg’s only improvisational comedy group, has been murdering celebrities in bizarre ways, amongst other things, for more than five years now. As they gear up for their winter show, they’ll prove again that anything is possible with improv.

Anything, including being a Kellogg student and being funny.

“I dated a Kellogg guy — he wasn’t the least bit funny,” says Erica Winston, a Communication junior. “I can’t stereotype all Kellogg students off of him, but in general I think of them (as being) pretty professionally driven and serious.”

However, with their quick-witted skits and ad-libbing, the Laughing Stocks prove that even some of the top business students in the country are made up of more than just bonds and dividends.

“After you see us, you’ll see that we don’t behave like the stereotypical Kellogg students,” says Scott Shrum, one of the group’s co-chairs.

While there are many career-focused and lifestyle-oriented clubs at Kellogg, Shrum, a second year student from Washington, D.C., Says that The Laughing Stocks is a place for students to blow off steam on Wednesday nights.

“There are dozens of clubs at Kellogg, but we’re probably the least serious,” he says.

Even so, there are some practical aspects to having an improv group for business students.

The club was initially created as a workshop group to teach Kellogg students the basic skills of improv, like brainstorming, creative problem solving and working within constraints — skills that are also important to business situations.

According to Ronnie Raviv, Kellogg ’99 and one of the original founders of the club, the creators “felt that improvisation, with its teamwork, orientation and creativity was a perfect fit” with the Kellogg curriculum.

Raviv decided to start a performance group alongside the workshop group in 1998, called “Unexpected Value.” The two branches of the improv club worked well together for a few years. The workshops were taught by professional improv actors from the Chicago comedy group Improv Olympic. Kellogg’s performance group grew and performed several shows each year.

In recent years, besides changing the name to “The Laughing Stocks,” the two aspects of the club have blended into one.

Though the professional workshop aspect has lessened over the years, the performance aspect has picked up.

However, Brigid Ganley, the group’s other co-chair, says that The Laughing Stocks is still a place where Kellogg students can learn valuable business skills such as public speaking.

The group meets each week to play a variety of short-form improv games — games similar to those played on the television show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” These games usually feature a host who leads group members through scenes based upon audience suggestions.

“People come and learn how to think quickly on their feet and look good doing it,” says Shrum.

In addition to the meetings, the club puts on three shows a year. Last fall, about 350 people packed Kellogg’s “Quiet Study Room” to see the students perform.

Some members, like Ganley, had some comedic experience before joining.

“I joined last year because I’d done some stand-up before,” Ganley says. “Improv is a lot harder.”

Shrum, who was involved with various improv groups before coming to Kellogg, says that he knew about The Laughing Stocks before deciding to enroll.

“That was actually one of the reasons I was really psyched about coming here,” he says. “It was such an indication that this was the kind of place I’d want to be for two years.”

Others, however, come to the club with little or no experience. The group is open to anyone willing to give improv a shot. Auditions are not necessary, says Shrum.

“It’s not like we’ve ever had anyone who is just not funny at all come and insist on staying,” Shrum laughs. “More likely, there are people who don’t come who would be funny, but don’t think they are … and that’s too bad.”

On Wednesday nights, anywhere from 15 to 20 students (and sometimes a spouse or two) gather to share laughs as they become a multitude of characters in the most unpredictable circumstances.

Shrum and Ganley, who became co-chairs of the group last spring, serve as the meeting emcees. Because they are both second-year students, someone new will have to take over in a few months.

The group members begin each session in a circle with introductions and warm-up games. One warm-up places a member in the center of the circle who then gets asked arithmetic and personal questions, respectively, while he or she tries to imitate the physical movements of another person in the circle.

This leaves members trying to quickly solve “10 plus two times two” while answering “Who’s your daddy?” Or “Who’s the last Kellogg guy you made out with?” And hopping on one foot and rolling around on the floor — all without missing a beat.

And even though they’re Kellogg students, Ganley warns the members to limit the math problems in this concentration game to “simple arithmetic problems.”

“It’s a nice release from the normal day to day pressures of school,”says Kirstin Hornby, a second-year student from Portland, Maine. “You get to meet new people and it’s not a bad time constraint.”

The winter show will be Hornby’s first performance with “The Laughing Stocks.” The show, which is free, is March 5 in the Jacobs Center.

One of the troupe’s most difficult games is called “Marshmallow,” where the members try not to make the audience laugh. Each time the audience laughs, the last person who spoke must stuff a large marshmallow into his or her mouth.

Inevitably, everyone on stage is trying to speak through a mouthful of marshmallows, a sight that audience members are sure to be left with after the show is over.

“Someone told me they laughed so hard (at our show) they wanted to vomit,” says Shrum. “So if you want to vomit, come to our show.”

Medill junior Nicole Joseph is a writer for PLAY. She can be reached at [email protected].

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
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