We are an eclectic, nutty group of people of so many amazing, fun personalities.

From the moment audience members enter Camera 3 on Second and San Carlos, they are transported into a world of play. Theater Two’s turf-covered stage is home to ComedySportz San Jose, an improv comedy staple.

Each performance divides the cast into two teams who compete in exciting, head-to-head comedy games. The audience, fueled by Psycho Donuts and coffee, decides who wins the match using plastic flyswatters called “whapnerz.” The referee can call fouls on both the players and audience members for offenses such as inappropriate language, the “Groaner Foul” for using a bad pun, or the “Too Soon Foul.”

To keep the experience fresh, the team can choose from over 250 games. The games they play just to warm up include titles such as “Zoom Schwartz Profigliano,” “Bibbity Bibbity Bop,” and “Zip Zap Zop.” Some of these come straight from the ComedySportz World Championship, where 22 teams from all over the world convene each year to share ideas they have created and to battle it out for a tiny trophy called the “Meaningless Cup.”

Although teams are competitive, it becomes clear that making everyone laugh, including each other, is the goal. For players like Michael Wilcoxen, ComedySportz San Jose represents more than an improv comedy team. “ComedySportz is the Island of Misfit Toys. We are an eclectic, nutty group of people of so many amazing, fun personalities. A month ago, one of our players married one of the house managers, and it was a ComedySportz-style event. We take care of each other. That’s one of the biggest things—it’s a family. Some of my best friends I met through ComedySportz.”

This enduring connection extends to local high school students in ComedySportz’s workshops. Workshop alum Chayton Whiskey has even gone on to join the main cast. As Wilcoxen explains, “We bring the kids here twice a week and do workshops here on site. A lot of schools do challenge shows, where they’ll play against each other. They create a ton of relationships and friendships within that community. That is another Island of Misfit Toys. It’s so much fun to see kids that may not have fit in somewhere else. We don’t turn our back on people. No matter where you come from, we have space for you.”

More than just pure fun, these workshops communicate a core value of ComedySportz: showing respect for each other in performance and everyday life.

“Inappropriate comedy isn’t funny. That’s a really cool maturation for a high school kid to realize: ‘Oh wait, I don’t have to put somebody down or make fun of a group to be funny.’ We elevate their humor to realize, ‘I don’t have to bully, or I don’t have to hurt somebody or make fun of somebody to be funny.’ That’s something Scott [Schroder], the director of our high school league, has always done. We’re more than just a comedy group. We have a social justice message, and we don’t hurt people, and we don’t make fun of people. We never want someone in our audience to feel uncomfortable.”

Silicon Valley companies such as eBay and HP have taken notice of ComedySportz’s positive effect on team building. The troupe comes in with tailored games to bond new employees together and to help dysfunctional teams cooperate. The dichotomy between comedy actor and the tech world is part of what makes the interaction work. “Dropping us into a room full of engineers gives them permission to look at things different ways. You see everybody sitting with their hands crossed in their laps at first, and usually by the end of the workshop, everybody’s up and playing and laughing and doing all these silly activities, [such as] trying to build a grand piano just using human bodies.”

Back at Camera 3, the sense of community continues as audience members—once strangers—are now bound by their shared creative experience. At the end of every performance, the players line up to high-five everyone leaving the theater. The chorus of laughter and clapping whapnerz reverberate across the downtown streets.

Written by Kathryn Hunts
Photography by Thomas Webb

Article originally appeared in Issue 5.4 “Form”

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