‘That was actually good’: 40% Milk entertains through longform improv


Ava Mandoli/The Daily Northwestern

Civetta and Rollings will perform Friday at Whiplash Variety Show.

Audrey Hettleman, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Communication sophomores Finn Rollings and Eli Civetta had only known each other for about a month when they performed their first longform improv comedy show for an audience of one. Almost five months and three shows later, the duo is just getting started under the name 40% Milk.

Inspired by comedy duo Middleditch and Schwartz’s Netflix special, which Civetta watched during Thanksgiving break, the pair performs longform improv comedy. After asking the audience for an embarrassing or stressful story, they improvise a 50-minute play.

“(Longform improv) totally consumes your brain because you have to be present in the moment making current jokes, but then also planning a couple of steps ahead,” Rollings said. “And then, for better or for worse, there’s another person on stage doing the same exact thing, having completely different ideas.”

Neither Rollings nor Civetta were accepted into any improv group they auditioned for this year, so they said they decided to create their own. After testing the waters by performing a few times for one or two friends, 40% Milk performed its first show in front of a full audience Jan. 28 in Harris Hall 107.

The name 40% Milk comes from an interaction Rollings had when after telling a joke, someone told him he was only funny 40% of the time. While it was supposed to serve as a placeholder, the name stuck.

As with any improv show, not all of the duo’s jokes land perfectly. For example, Civetta said one time he and Rollings walked into the scene as the same character. They adapted by using supernatural elements established earlier in the show to redirect the story.

Communication sophomore Maggie Haas met Civetta in a Radio, Television and Film class their freshman year. She attended two of the group’s three shows and said she looks forward to attending more.

“If I had never seen them and didn’t know who Eli and Finn were, I would have thought that they had been working together for a few years,” she said. “They have this chemistry that just really works.”

After developing a logo based on Lyrical Lemonade’s, the duo released merchandise with notable quotes from its shows.

Haas said small decisions like these draw in the audience, which makes her feel more invested in the show.

“Whatever they do, it’s kind of going to be an inside joke between them and you,” Haas said. “You just feel super connected.”

Instead of prompting stage fright, Civetta said larger audiences made the pair feel more comfortable. Even if not everyone laughs, he said more people means it’s more likely at least one person will find a joke funny.

Rollings said he enjoyed hearing what his friends and other audience members thought of each of their shows, and that the variety of opinions on which show was better, which jokes landed the best and more were interesting to dissect. On the other, feedback that came immediately after stepping offstage didn’t always feel the most welcome, he said.

“It just sort of led me to have a greater appreciation for the subjectivity and getting reviews after the show,” Rollings said.

40% Milk will perform Friday at Whiplash Variety Show. For the summer, the group secured a research grant to develop the show, and will spend eight weeks in Chicago and San Francisco performing full time.

Civetta encouraged students to come see the group’s next show, even if they don’t consider college improv particularly thrilling.

“To put it in the words of almost every single person after that first show: ‘Oh, that was actually good,’” Civetta said. “Which is a weird compliment to get because it means that, in a sense, we proved them wrong.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @AudreyHettleman 

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