Sierra Tsementzis is over the COVID jokes. She’s over the quarantine jokes, and she is most certainly over the Zoom meeting jokes.
It’s not that she doesn’t get them or that she’s offended. It’s simply that, after the past year, it‘s all become almost too relatable.
That’s why Tsementzis and the rest of the students involved in the upcoming “SCetch Comedy” show decided to stick to a simple theme: give the audience a break from reality.
“We didn’t want to do sketches about Zoom classes, Zoom presentations or anything like that, because we live that every single day,” she said. “I think that’s where our strength lies. The joke isn’t, ‘Oh, we’re two people talking online. Isn’t this funny?’ It’s about having normal comedy but making it work online.”
It’s about having normal comedy but making it work online.
Tsementzis and nine other students will be putting on the online sketch comedy show next week as part of the USC School of Dramatic Arts’ spring lineup, the first time a sketch comedy show has been featured as part of the school’s season. “SCetch Comedy” by the SCetch Company will run April 16 and 17 with free tickets available on the school’s website.
Tsementzis, a theater and environmental studies double major, is the only student in the show who has previous online sketch comedy experience, having taken classes with show director Kirstin Eggers.
“With the first Zoom shows, it was more about trying to get people acclimated to the idea of being online,” she said. “We’d have to acknowledge the weirdness of it so everyone would be at least kind of familiar with why we’re doing this.”
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Despite the performers being restricted to their own spaces, Eggers said that Zoom actually lent itself quite well to sketch comedy.
“Just the creativity that’s needed to do it like this, this is exactly what people studying sketch comedy should have to do, in a weird way,” said Eggers, an adjunct lecturer at the USC School of Dramatic Arts. “Yes, there are limitations, but the creativity that has to come with these parameters is unreal, and that’s kind of the most important part.”
She normally teaches a course called Sketch Comedy in Performance, which culminates with an SNL-style sketch show, produced in partnership with the USC School of Cinematic Arts. That course was put on hold for a year due to the pandemic, but Eggers just couldn’t stay away from comedy.
She still wanted students to have the opportunity to work on comedy for an audience, so she proposed that the school use one of the Theatre Practicum classes — which usually focuses on more traditional plays — as a sketch class. That way, the final sketch show could utilize the school’s creative and technical resources to create something that would be featured in the spring lineup.
“Even though comedy is historically dismissed, I think it’s very important and supportive of everything else,” Eggers said. “My students are from all over the university, and we have a great comedy minor, which I kind of feel that every USC student should get because of these tools that we’re working on in terms of creativity, collaboration and expressing yourself.”
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Prior to this class, senior Tim Frangos had never taken a sketch comedy class but was heavily involved in musical theater at USC. He said Eggers really helped him hone his writing and musical talents in ways that translated to sketch comedy.
“She taught me how to use all the different parts of me in order to create a really fun, creative and spontaneous performance, which I’ve never really thought of doing before,” Frangos said. “It’s been chaos, but I think there’s a lot of joy and spontaneity that comes out of that chaos that we can all appreciate, especially during this time.”
It’s been chaos, but I think there’s a lot of joy and spontaneity that comes out of that chaos that we can all appreciate.
Between frozen screens, muted mics or spotty internet connections, chaos seemed to be an apt description. However, aside from the habitual technical errors, both Tsementzis and Frangos said they miss performing live and in-person — from the rush of being on stage to interacting with the audience.
“I really miss in-person interactions, because I think so much of the comedy can come from messing up and improvisation,” Tsementzis said. “So much of comedy is connecting with an audience or the people you’re with, so if you can’t hear people laugh, you can’t tell if a joke landed or if no one got it.”
But despite the inevitable hiccups in any rehearsal, much less one via Zoom, all three said the experience brought them closer together than had it been in person.
“Comedy is such a tool of togetherness, and that’s what we need right now, coming together in any way that we can,” Eggers said.
Most importantly, the experience showed everyone involved what can still be accomplished despite barriers — and how to keep on laughing.
“I came in thinking like, this was going to be the most chaotic experience of my Zoom life, and honestly, those expectations were met in the best way,” Frangos said. “Through this chaos, there was all this love and joy. Even though we’re in our little remote Zoom spaces, we’re having fun in the process.”