An industry of swiss army knives: Students reflect Northwestern’s comedy scene


Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

Northwestern offers a variety of student groups and opportunities for students interested in comedy.

Nixie Strazza, Reporter

While some students have dedicated years to crafting the perfect punchline, others at Northwestern are just getting started in the comedy scene.

Communication sophomore Orly Lewittes’s comedy career began with a lie. She was first introduced to stand up when she snuck into an adults-only comedy club at age 14. Lewittes said she ended the night knowing how she wanted to spend the rest of her life.

The following summer, Lewittes slipped into a training program for older students at The Second City, Chicago’s renowned comedy theatre, where she again dodged questions of her age to take classes on improv, stand up and sketch comedy. Lewittes honed her skills throughout high school, submitting self-written plays for school performances and participating in stand up for charity events.

Despite her experience, Lewittes said arriving in Evanston was a completely different ball game given the immense talent at NU.

“Getting to NU as someone who wants to do comedy is the scariest thing in the world,” Lewittes said. “But the best, scariest, most amazing, beautiful dark place once you figure it out.”

Lewittes joined The Bix, NU’s musical improv group her freshman year, and auditioned for Sit and Spin Productions’ stand-up show. Much to her surprise, Lewittes said she was not only cast in the exclusive performance, but was also asked to close the show.

After a whirlwind of auditions in the fall, Lewittes said she secured a spot in the Mee-Ow Show, NU’s improv and sketch comedy group, known to have rejected Seth Meyers (Communication ’96) until his senior year.

With daily rehearsals and sketch deadlines for the group’s upcoming winter performances Jan. 27 to 29, Lewittes said she has opted to be a part-time student this quarter.

“I am putting my academics on the back burner to write a bunch of fart jokes,” Lewittes said. “And I couldn’t be more pleased with my choice.”

Like Lewittes, Communication sophomore Eli Civetta began comedy at a young age. He was introduced to comedy by his father, a former actor and founder of the nonprofit children’s theatre Extraordinarily Sophisticated Imagination Club. He joined the program in middle school, where he tried his hand at improv through games and group performances held during the camp’s offseason.

In 2019, Civetta was selected to participate in a kids comedy showcase at the Laugh Factory run by Saturday Night Live cast member Kenan Thompson. After arriving at NU, Civetta joined No Fun Mud Piranhas, known as “Cas-Prov” for its casual and inclusionary atmosphere, and is now the group’s secretary of education.

Civetta said the group provides a place for all potential performers to workshop improv and sketch skills through games and individualized mentoring. He said there is more to learn from improv than simply getting laughs.

“Improv teaches you to think on your feet,” Civetta said. “Taking an idea that someone throws out there and heightening it to the next level is a great skill to have in any collaborative environment.”

Civetta regularly travels into Chicago during the week to perform improv at CIC Theater with his sister Sophie (Communication ’21), a member of The Second City’s conservatory program.

Communication junior Anelga Hajjar began her improv comedy career in tandem with her theatre education. She joined long-form improv troupe The Titanic Players in her freshman year.

Through Titanic, company members get the opportunity to perform regularly at The Comedy Clubhouse, a comedy club owned by artistic director Mike Abdelsayed. To prepare for shows, Hajjar said the group focuses on ensemble-building to create a more cohesive storyline onstage.

“It’s not about being the funniest,” Hajjar said. “It is about telling a story and supporting the ideas that your team members offer.”

Titanic auditions a new team every year that sticks together for the rest of their NU career. Developing skills with the same group of people creates a space for shared growth, vulnerability and trust, which translates to good comedy, Hajjar said.

Lewittes said it takes time to overcome growing pains and find your voice upon entering the NU comedy scene. She compared the process to breaking in a leather jacket, an article of clothing she has admittedly never owned.

In an industry where everyone is a “swiss army knife,” fit for many functions, Lewittes said she is glad to have the space to develop her craft at NU.

“What scares you as a freshman quickly turns into awe and excitement,” Lewittes said. “You just learn so much from the people around you.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @NixieStrazza

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