Two Fridays ago, a couple of my friends and I went to the Tulane Office Hours Comedy show. That’s my whole story. True, this might not sound like that much of a revelation for those who were aware that Tulane social life could provide more than a Boot line and a house party that led you to feel that the Boot line is at least better. I won’t speak about the issues of going downtown for fear of losing readers here as they mentally relive those nights. But, for my two friends and me, it was one of the most refreshing experiences we’ve had at Tulane as a collective in a long time. It was special because it was new to us, and we felt so confused as to where we have been these last few years, if not there, laughing on the floor mats in McWilliams Hall.
The fact that this was so exciting to us does have a lot to do with Covid and not being able to be with other Tulane students in new ways recently. I am not going to blame anyone for being stuck in the same patterns these past few years because routine and predictability are what I adhered to as well. Hence, one reason I never went to this free, hilarious, close-by event.
My friends and I decided to go because we could not imagine doing our same Friday routine again that night, and because we place heavy importance on making each other laugh in whatever idiotic way we can. To prepare, we held water bottles to our mouths in our living room that served as microphones and forced our other housemates to listen to us do stand-up. “So, you’re on Zoom, right…”, and, “No, I joke, I joke, I do love New Orleans, it’s a great place, great city…” were some of our favorite lines that showed that we have no talent but have listened to enough stand-up to know what we might say to transition from one mediocre and largely unrelatable joke to the next. We enjoyed every second. Thankfully, the Office Hours group had more to offer than we did.
We snuck into the front row seats at the last minute in the pitch black, and seconds later, the lights went on. Instantly, DJ BJ and Lil’ Benzo arguing over the best lyrics for Lil’ Benzo’s new song struck a chord. Throughout the rest of the show, there were skits for every type of humor, even the darkest, as one skit was about someone trying to buy a coffin and was rewarded for being the millionth customer with dancing dead bodies. The whole show was the “laugh out loud” kind of funny and creative.
This week, I was lucky enough to talk to junior Mercedes Ohlen, our very own Assistant Editor-in-Chief, about her experience with the Tulane Sketch Comedy Club. I wanted to share it because I wish that I had known about it sooner and because going to this made me happy for a week straight.
Did you do something similar to sketch comedy in high school?
I was a part of the Screamin’ Demons Improv Troupe at my high school, but I realized that I wanted to focus more on writing when I got to college. Although they are often confused, sketch comedy gives you the best of both worlds. You can perform, but you can also write out sketches, either for you to perform or for someone else. It was the perfect combination of my comedic interests.
What do you like about Tulane Office Hours, and what is difficult about it?
What I like most about Office Hours is that it’s dedicated time to do something I enjoy with my friends. I’m not writing things for people to see at the shows or on video (although seeing your sketch on stage is a huge plus); I’m writing it to make my friends in the group laugh. The social aspect is so prominent, and it’s so important that we all get along. We got lucky because we all genuinely respect and like each other– at least I feel that way.
The group challenges me to be constantly writing and always to do better. It’s never frustrating, just motivating. I think that because it’s a group built on being pushed to do better continually, it’s never complicated. Like your parents say: when you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. That’s the mindset I have with Office Hours.
How long does it take you guys to come up with the skits, and is there anything specific that has influenced your inspiration?
Getting a sketch from an idea to being show-ready is a bit of a process. We all write sketches throughout the semester, whether alone or collaboratively with another person. Then, we table read it. It will then go through numerous edits by numerous members until you have a well-rounded sketch that the group is happy with. If it gets picked for a show, that’s great. If it gets picked to be filmed as a video, that’s great too. If it doesn’t, you at least know that you’ve made something you’re proud of, and you can always come back to it later. I find that my fellow Office Hours members are where I find the most humor in terms of inspiration. When you’re writing to make your friends laugh, it just kind of flows. I also believe that the funniest concepts are sometimes the most simple. I keep a list of ideas that I think would make a good sketch in my Notes app and then go there when I sit down to write. The world is so crazy right now, and you really can find humor in anything.
How long do you practice, and how many times do you perform in a semester?
We have two rehearsals a week, and we practice year-round, whether that be writing sketches together, doing table reads, or filming sketches. We have 1 to 2 shows a semester, generally one first semester, and then one joint show with the Unscripted Improv group here at Tulane, as well as a solo show. There is a lot of overlap between the Improv group and us– one of our Co-Presidents, Mira Fechter, is also on Improv, and she does a fantastic job with both groups.
How many performers are there in total? Does this number shift a lot? Is there still room for people to get involved?
The number of members in the group fluctuates from year to year, as we hold auditions at the beginning of every school year. This year, we added six new members because we will lose a lot of seniors who are graduating this year. At this moment, we have 17 members in total. I would highly recommend auditioning if you’re interested. We are always looking for funny people to carry on the legacy!
Could you explain more about the audition process and what that entails?
My year, we submitted online, so I sent in a video, an original sketch script, and some Crescent articles that I thought accurately depicted my humor. We did this because of covid, but it’s typically in person, which we returned to this year. For in-person segments, they were asked to bring in something that they could perform before us— some people did stand up, some just told a story, a few people actually wrote sketches out— and we also asked them to perform a sketch we wrote.
What are some ways people are involved with this group behind the scenes?
Two of our most important members are Jael Ellman and Oliver Canosa, our Stage Managers. They do so much more than just run our tech during the shows. From organizing events to taking notes during rehearsals, they genuinely have the most challenging roles in the group. I honestly can’t stress how important they are– we would fall apart without them. They are also naturally funny; it’s crazy that they aren’t on stage with us. If they chose to write and be in sketches, they would hit it out of the park.
Cover photo: Anthony Karry