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Student comics reflect on changing cultural discourse, importance of diverse writers' rooms

Barren Mind Improv, Farce Side Comedy and Stand Up vs. the World are the student groups on campus reconciling a changing comedy atmosphere in tense cultural times

The ASU comedy club gathers every Friday in the Memorial Union.

Whether you prefer hilarious performed scripts, yelling absurd suggestions at a cast, or a solo performance on stage with audience engagement, the comedy line-up on Fridays at the Memorial Union basement stage is where you can find it all.

For comedians at ASU, getting a laugh is just as important as being aware of the impact had on an audience. For members of Farce Side Comedy and Barren Mind Improv, it's about building confidence and finding community.

But today's comedy scene looks very different than 10 years ago. Trends suggest that comedy is observational, self-deprecating and tailored to an audience's enjoyment — a far cry from the conventional topics from the past.

Editorial boards from newspapers across the country have featured pieces on the evolving relationship between comedy and the political climate, which has forced comics of all levels to take note and adjust. 

"It is a fine balance of toeing the line and being really intentional about not being harmful to our audience," said Berkeley Adair, a junior studying aerospace engineering and member of Farce Side Comedy. 

Farce Side Comedy and Barren Mind Improv are some of the few student-run comedy troupes at the University and perform every Friday in the lower level of the Memorial Union.

"I think that we have a pretty good compass in terms of deciding what is funny and what’s just too far," Adair said.

Abbey Raye Richmond, a sophomore studying psychology and member of Barren Mind Improv, is writing a future set for Stand Up vs. the World, a stand-up group at ASU that hosts student comedians on Fridays.

Because jokes are often derived from a comedian's own experiences, a politically charged sociocultural environment is contributing to a culture of care within the comedic community. 

Richmond said that writing from personal experience allows her to draw inspiration and avoid doing harm to an audience.

"We're all learning and growing together, especially because these are very shaping years of our lives," she said. 

Not only has there been a change in trends but also a change in demographics. Women comedians in the old comedy sphere were placed under much more scrutiny than modern comedians who have made it more and more into the mainstream. 

Adair and Richmond are a part of the minority of non-men in comedy. This has challenged all of them to be more confident in themselves while bringing crucial diversity to the community. 

"It is a different dynamic," said Allison Watson, a senior studying theater and member of Farce Side and Barren Mind. "You have to be assertive in yourself and say: 'This is me, this is what I do, and I don’t want to be in the background.'"

Richmond said that the diversity in the comedy scene at ASU is encouraging, but the general lack of non-men in comedy across the nation can be attributed to a societal stigma around female comics — a stigma she said she does not feel in her comedy group.

"There's such a stigma, but it's slowly going away," she said. "I think that doing this group has instilled a lot of confidence in me and I can finally feel like, 'Oh, I'm hilarious.'"

Adair also said that it is crucial to get feedback when politics play a role in certain sketches. It is even more important to get feedback from a diverse writer’s room so that more backgrounds can be considered, she said.

"It helps us appeal to our audience because we will always have a diverse crowd with different perspectives," she said. "It is always going to be important in comedy to have diversity." 

Watson said giving feedback and holding each other accountable is a testament to the support system and tight-knit community that both organizations have created.

"We want it to be something that people can enjoy without being hurt," Watson said. "I feel like our leadership is very considerate of that, so we have a good system and people are pretty supportive."

Barren Mind Improv and Farce Side Comedy Hour, both registered ASU organizations, host auditions for new cast members in the fall and spring semesters. 

Farce Side Comedy performs sketches at 7 p.m., Barren Mind performs improv at 8 p.m. and Stand-Up vs. the World begins at 9 p.m on Fridays in the basement stage of the Memorial Union.

Edited by Grey Gartin, Jasmine Kabiri and Caera Learmonth.

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