Pun Intended Comedy Troupe
I successfully revived my University comedy troupe from the ground up, redesigning the logo and operating the team. Utilizing several unique measures, I was able to rapidly increase team trust and unity among a group of formerly unacquainted players. I also expanded the group's focus into video work and built an audience beyond campus borders in the Pittsburgh theater scene.
August, 2014 to May, 2015 (and still going!)
The Pun Intended comedy improv troupe was first founded as a way to increase the campus focus on the performing arts and, more specifically, comedy. However, although Pun Intended quickly became massively popular among the student body, it was abandonded within three academic generations.
In the summer of 2014, I set out to refound and reignite the organization, both returning it to its former popularity and expounding upon its original mission.
Franciscan University of Steubenville
Re-founder and president
The process of recreating Pun Intended involved many facets and steps, but most of these can be summarized: building the organization; building the team; and building an audience.
Building the Organization
As mentioned, the organization had almost been entirely forgotten when I took on the project. However, further investigation revealed that the organization remained formally "on the books" as a campus group. Using the mission statement and basic structure of the team in its original incarnation, I was able to set up a strong foundation for this new version.
It was at this point in the process that I invited Julia Premus, an aspiring comedy writer, to serve as the group's vice president. Working together, we were able to formally refound the organization before Student Government and achieve the necessary support from the University.
Eager to both improve upon the original and differentiate this new version, we made several changes to the organization. Perhaps most notable among these changes was the way by which we decided to cast new performers into the group. Formerly, the team had operated with approximately eight core members, a "referee," and between two and three supporting cast.
These supporting players were the newest recruits, designated to serve as ushers until room was made for them in the team of eight. We disliked this because it seemed to create levels of membership and decrease the social trust and intimacy required in comedy (and in improv comedy particularly). Therefore, we redesigned the casting process so that those who auditioned satisfactorily were automatically added to the working team, and no more were cast than we had room for.
The role of the "referee" was disposed of entirely. Previously, this player had acted as a show host, welcoming the audience and introducing the different games. However, this too seemed to problematically differentiate the main cast from what essentially became "outskirt players". Therefore, we redesigned the show structure so that each cast member would, during the course of a show, take a turn hosting an improv game. This allowed all players to participate fully in the majority of the show. This strategy also offered the added benefit of allowing a performer who was not strong at a particular game to absent himself in order to host, thus strengthening the overall performance.
Another major change was made, this time to the organization logo. Previously, the logo had been a yellow and purple target design with a cartoonish aesthetic, as seen below:
However, my vice president and I felt that a new logo should be created to show that we were a new version of the organization. At the same time, the new logo had to be similar enough to its predecessor to reveal both continuity and a clear evolution, a symbol of the new group. The new version that I designed can be seen below:
For the new image, I maintained the bi-colored target design. However, I changed the colors from yellow/purple to the more eye-catching blue/orange combination. The rings themselves were textured like felt or tissue paper, a subtle homage to groups like The Muppets and Monty Python's Flying Circus, whose ramshackle and good-natured attitude we wanted to project. The lettering was also made one-dimensional and white, and the font was changed to appear less cartoony and more dynamic.
This new design lent itself well to team shirts. It also proved to be an easy image to manipulate into highly varying yet still recognizable thematic versions, a trait that proved useful for advertising purposes. The t-shirt design as well as some of the promotional images that were generated for different themed shows (Luau, Palm Sunday, etc.) can be seen below:
Building the Team
Once casting had been completed, we were faced with the challenge of quickly getting all members in working order. Several measures were taken to increase trust and collaboration in a team that had no experience working with one another.
First, I strictly forbid mean-spirited humor towards other members of the group. Although some negative humor towards those outside the team is to be expected (impressions of public figures is, after all, a comedic staple), it was important for the team members to know that they could experiment comedically and share personally without fear of ridicule. It was therefore made clear to all members that someone who was caught seriously mocking another member of the team would be respectfully warned, or asked to leave the team upon second offense.
Another step that was taken to encourage trust included some creative, non-invasive sharing. At a fourth practice session - when everyone was relatively used to one another - I asked that everyone gather in a circle. It was then each player's job to compliment the player immediately to their left on something they'd done which was especially funny. For instance, player 1 might compliment player 2 on a particularly humorous impression player 2 had performed. This allowed each member to see not only that others were paying positive attention to their performances, but furthermore be made aware of talents or strengths they didn't know they had.
These two measures, among others, were highly effective in creating team trust. The second measure especially marked a major turning point for the team as performances swiftly improved.
Building an Audience
Although there remained on campus some collective memory of the old Pun Intended, it was important for us to spread the word about the newly refounded organization. Although posters, word-of-mouth, and "meme marketing" was used to generate awareness, one of our most notable means of publicity was our commercials.
One-to-two weeks prior to every show, we'd create a short and simplistic video commercial. These commercials often were built around a central gag and were created to be shared as much as possible. One of our most popular commercials - an homage to the iconic Saturday Night Live theme - can be viewed in HD below:
Pun Intended - SNL
A campus reputation was not enough, however. We wanted to extend our audience throughout the area.
With this goal in mind, we began participating in collaborative improv shows with other major troupes throughout the Pittsburgh area. These troupes included Well Known Strangers and Hotel Nowhere, both of which have been featured at the Chicago Improv Festival. Happily, we established positive working relationships with the other troupes and even found that we were able to hold our own among such seasoned performers.
Pun Intended quickly became widely popular on campus once again, this time with an outreach in the Pittsburgh comedy scene. We were able to expand upon the groups initial focus by creating filmed sketches and shorts in addition to our improv comedy. We were also able to improve upon the groups previous structure, building an organization in which everyone was equally involved and in which trust and mutual respect held the team together.