Improv Troupe delivers laughs

"When you launder money," Gerrit Betz asked the audience, contorting his face into a quizzical mug, "do you use Tide or Gain?"

On Wednesday, Betz, a sophomore ethics, history, and public policy major, performed at the Green Room in Station Square with four of his fellow No Parking Players: Alex Grubb, a sophomore computer science major, Brian Gray, a junior information systems major, Scott Dai, a senior computer science major, and Josh Hailpern, a junior computer science major and the group's artistic director. At the time of his supposed money-laundering ineptitude, Betz and his comrades were doing their best to come up with the 10 best examples of incompetent criminals.

Each Wednesday, The Green Room hosts its "Best of the 'Burgh" series -- which usually features iFactor, a professional Pittsburgh improvisational comedy troupe. But this past Wednesday, iFactor teamed up with Carnegie Mellon's own No Parking Players to put on a tag-team improvisational extravaganza. Improvisational comedy -- better known simply as improv -- is composed of short skits, games, songs, or monologues that are completely unscripted and usually rely on audience participation and suggestions.

While the No Parking Players frequently give free shows in the University Center, this was their first foray into professional comedy. "Improv is so different from other forms of performance," said Hailpern. "[It's] the most basic form of performance that you can get. There's no construct around it -- just go up there and be entertaining. That's so freeing, and that's why improv is so rewarding. There really are no rules."

One of the things that sets the No Parking Players (NPP) apart from an ordinary improv troupe is their all-encompassing approach to the art. Not only do they perform their shows in the University Center, but they also teach. Every Thursday and Sunday, the troupe hosts free improv workshops in Baker Hall 235A, where any and all interested improvers can, according to Josh Hailpern, "learn, relax, have a good time, and laugh. [We] let you get all the facets of improv that are entertaining."

Courtney Kochuba, a sophomore English major, enjoys NPP's free shows. "They're a very talented group of college students that go above and beyond what a lot of professional groups do in performances," she said. "They use their intelligence and humor to create something that's funny and is a great break for busy college students." Indeed, NPP's free shows usually draw crowds with standing room only.

But the benefits of improv extend beyond a good belly laugh. The practice can actually hone one's argumentative skills and ability to think quickly under pressure. "Improv studies interactions -- the things that people do and why they do them," said Betz. "It teaches your brain to think on its feet, and always come up with solutions, no matter how crazy they are." Betz pointed out that "your life is unscripted."

According to Hailpern, "Improv isn't something that's limited to a game or a scene. It's so much deeper. If you think about it, that's what good professors do. It's the ability to change yourself to make people engaged, and to get people to listen. It's a skill that's really a part of every aspect of your life."

Hailpern capped off the troupe's night at the Green Room with his own stab at one of the top 10 lamest criminals. He took center stage and stood slouching for a few moments. Then, glancing over his shoulder at an imaginary sign, he scoffed to the audience, "*No loitering*? F-ck that."