With a garter-wearing chicken for a logo and a name that references pantyhose, Control Top has some of the most unique iconography of campus groups. The group is unique in another way as well: It’s Barnard and Columbia’s only all-female improv group.
Control Top uses the word “female” as part of its branding, but the group emphasizes the fact that people of any non-cisgender male identity are welcome. The use of “female” is part of the performative aspect of the group’s humor. They like to use words like “lady” and “female” in their comedy, but the use of these words is not necessarily meant to be taken literally.
“[We’re] basically like, a non-cis men improv group,” Madeline Altman, BC ’20, said.
Control Top was founded 12 years ago by students who were not satisfied by the improv scene on campus and wanted a space to do all-female improv.
“I feel freer to use my body for comedic purposes, and it feels very freeing to be able to perform in a space and be able to perform with these players,” Altman said.
Sophia Bannister, BC ’19, explained that oftentimes in a co-ed improv group, when a woman enters the scene, the men immediately see her as a “girlfriend” or “mother” and female players are regularly confined to these two roles.
“Doing improv with an all-female team kinda eliminates that obstacle, and I think that we all feel a little bit more free doing comedy with each other than in a space that is more male-dominated,” Bannister said.
The group emphasized its commitment to the founding principle of American feminism: “Funny chicks get more kisses,” as Bannister said.
All jokes aside, when asked about the feminist implications of an all-female improv group, members viewed it as an implicit, unspoken virtue, rather than an active political stance.
“If you are feminist and you’re a group of feminists who are performing together, it’s going to be a feminist performance without ever needing to have a feminist joke,” Bannister said.
When asked about the difficulties in interacting with negative stereotypes confronting women in comedy, members responded by referencing comedian Mindy Kaling, who is known for refusing to acknowledge those stigmas.
“I don't want to head-on confront the stereotypes, because I think confronting them kinda implies that there is a grain of truth to it,” Bannister said. ”I don’t want to even acknowledge that it is a legitimate thing to say that women aren't funny.”
Control Top practices twice a week and aims to put on three performances this semester.
Although prospective members are not expected to have any prior experience, the audition process is competitive because the group is limited to eight members. The group is tight-knit, as members come to know each other as friends and as performers, and this shows in their comedy and fluid improv.
Control Top Fixes the MTA––a reference to one of the hotly contested topics in the gubernatorial race in New York––is the group’s first show of the semester, on Thursday, Oct. 11 from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. in the Glicker-Milstein Theatre.
“Of course, like, we’re not gonna actually––well, we are gonna fix the MTA,” Arsenault said.
In addition to Thursday’s show, they will have shows on Saturday, Nov. 10, and Thursday, Dec. 13, location to be announced. This Friday night, they will be performing at CSC Night Market on campus. The group also performs at various venues around the city throughout the year.
“When someone goes to a Control Top performance, they can expect the night of their lives,” Bannister said.