Dartmouth comedy groups are no joke

One writer explores the ins and outs of comedy groups on campus.

by Gianna Totani | 6/11/23 2:00am

Source: Courtesy of Lulu Alonso

This article is featured in the 2023 Commencement & Reunions special issue.

Dartmouth’s comedy clubs are prominent performance groups on campus, with some clubs going back for decades and others joining the scene  within the past few years. Currently there are four comedy groups on campus: Dog Day Players, Casual Thursday, Dartmouth Comedy Network and Can’t Sell Culture Comedy Collective. Each group rehearses weekly and regularly performs at different spaces around campus — some of the groups have even toured around the country. 

Dog Day Players is Dartmouth’s oldest improv comedy group, which was founded in 1995 as a successor to Said and Done, an improv group that was started by Dartmouth students in the 1980s. Dog Day’s shows tend to be in long-form style, which means their performances are continuous improvised pieces which are inspired by a suggestion from an audience member. In other words, everything the Players perform is made up on the spot, following the basic rules and techniques of improv comedy.

Dog Day also has a strong alumni network; notable alumni include Alexi Pappas ’12, Mindy Kaling ’01, Rachel Dratch ’88, as well as other recent graduates working in television and comedy, who have come back to campus to speak to members of the group. Kaling even came back in 2020 to interview members about the show she was writing at the time, “The Sex Lives of College Girls.” 

Six years after the debut of the Dog Day Players, the Class of 2004 founded a new improvisation group called Casual Thursday. The comedy troupe usually performs short-form improv, which consists of short, standalone games in which a suggestion is taken at the beginning of each game to inspire the improvisers. Casual Thursday also performs sketch shows on occasion. 

More recently, the Class of 2022 founded the Dartmouth Comedy Network in 2019 as a platform for students to write, perform and film sketch comedy to be posted on their YouTube channel. The group also aims to host at least one open mic event per term where anyone can sign up to try comedy. 

Can’t Sell Culture Comedy Collective is a very new club — formed in the winter of 2023 — with the mission to provide students with opportunities to work in a writer’s room to create written sketch comedy pieces that are performed by the group members. The group also creates a publication of written comedy, open to all submissions, that is published at the end of each term. 

Each of these four comedy groups has unique characteristics with separate audition processes, unlike those of a capella and other performance groups on campus. According to business manager Miles Brown ’23, Dog Day Players only takes three to four first-year students each fall. The audition process is composed of three rounds. The first round consists of a warm-up improv exercise and group scenes with about five to six auditionees. Then, about half of the auditionees are called back to do two-person scenes with a member of the group. By the final round, about five or six auditionees remain and are called back again to do one final scene with a member of the group. 

Casual Thursday, on the other hand, accepts new members from any class year; however, it tends to be mostly freshmen who audition, according to Jordan Paff ’23. The audition process — which takes place during the fall of each academic year — consists of three rounds. First, auditionees play a short-form improv game called “Pan Right, Pan Left,” in which each member of a four-person team receives a suggestion such as an occupation, location, relationship or theme from the game caller. The team is configured in a square, with two players downstage, considered “on stage” and two players upstage, assuming “off stage.” As the game progresses, the caller rotates the players by announcing “pan left,” moving the players clockwise and “pan right” which moves the players counterclockwise. Essentially, the game has four scenes in one which has the potential to create an effortless riff as the players move from one position to the next. 

After the game, the existing members send the auditionees out of the room to do their first round of deliberations. Then, depending on the skill level of the auditionees, some are called back for a second game with an existing member of Casual Thursday to get a sense of the auditionee’s communication skills as a potential scene partner. The final call back takes place, and then the group makes their final decisions. 

Can’t Sell Culture Comedy Collective just held auditions for the first time at the beginning of the term. According to co-founders Connor Norris ’25 and Lulu Alonso ’25, the group plans to hold auditions at the beginning of each term to give students who tried out for the other comedy groups in the fall another chance at participating in comedy at Dartmouth. Can’t Sell Culture Comedy Collective also wants to give students who prefer writing comedy to have an outlet on campus. 

Unlike its peer comedy groups, Dartmouth Comedy Network does not hold auditions, as the club believes that anyone on campus who wants to be involved in comedy should have the opportunity, according to co-president Danielle Tamkin ’23. Therefore, they do not hold a formal audition process and instead have a participation requirement for members, which is to come to a few meetings, to perform with the group and be listed on their setlist. The participation requirement, however, is easily achievable, and new members frequently join their open mic opportunities. 

Because Can’t Sell Culture Comedy Collective is in its infant stages, the group hopes to grow and create an even stronger community of people who love comedy and want an outlet to practice writing, according to Alonso and Norris. According to Tamkin, Dartmouth Comedy Network’s community is very encouraging and supportive of one another. Each member of the group loves doing comedy but also desires to help each other improve. 

“I think Dartmouth Comedy Network helped me discover just how much I love comedy,” Tamkin said. “It really helped me discover how much I love writing and performing jokes. Also, it’s just been an amazing community.”

Upon reflection of his four years with Dog Day Players, Brown said he cherishes the time he spent rehearsing in the basement of Mid Massachusetts residence hall. He reminisced on the many laughs had in that space, which is now one of his favorites on campus. Brown explained that a Dog Day alum painted a picture of the group in the basement for him, and he keeps it on his wall to remember the wonderful memories. 

“Some of my closest friendships I’ve made at Dartmouth, the group has given me,” Brown said. “I think probably all of my best memories are just in rehearsal time. Some of the scenes that really made me laugh are moments that I’ll never forget.” 

Paff explained that Casual Thursday functions more like a friend group. From weekly dinners three times a week before rehearsal, to cabin nights and tours, Casual Thursday is truly a community that has radically shifted Paff’s whole Dartmouth experience for the better. 

“I think the most significant thing that I’ve learned is that any group that you’re in on campus isn’t really defined by the activity so much as the people,” Paff said. “[Casual Thursday] is a comedy group, but I don’t feel that emotionally connected to the improv comedy at all. I’m just really connected to this group and these people.”