Third Wheel Improv put on its third annual Spare Tires Improv Festival in the Black Box Theater on Nov. 9 and 10. The festival featured all three on-campus improv groups—Third Wheel, Fruit Paunch, and Control Top—as well as visiting improv groups from various East Coast schools—NYU, Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, and Wesleyan. Each group performed a 20-minute set and were met with laughter from the audience.
Founded in 2013, Third Wheel Improv is Columbia’s newest coed long-form improv group and is responsible for organizing the festival. The Spare Tires Improv Festival is the brainchild of the previous head of Third Wheel, Aaron Fisher, CC ’18, and first took place in fall 2016—just a few days after the 2016 election. Inspired by a festival the group attended at Georgetown University, Third Wheel has been organizing its own festival with inclusivity and exposure in mind ever since. The event is free to attend and deliberately scheduled during the interim between midterms and finals. This year, the festival was organized by Emma Gold, CC ’19, and Jacob Kaplan, CC ’20, the co-heads of Third Wheel Improv.
“The whole idea is that we have it be completely free, so really there’s no reason you wouldn’t be able to see it,” said Kaplan.
The festival is a cited as a positive experience by audience members and improv groups alike.
“Festivals, especially collegiate festivals, are a great way to build community among improv groups, because by nature they are very insular and very small,” said Gold.
All three on-campus groups practice long-form improv, which involves using an audience suggestion and building a whole set off of it. Meanwhile, visiting groups often employ short-form improv or a mix of forms, which involves more game play with the audience and shorter scenes.
“All the groups on campus do some type of long-form but we all approach it in different ways,” said Gold.
Control Top is a Barnard and Columbia improv group made up of eight women and non-binary students and that specializes in montage, a longer format that involves ad-libbing sequences of scenes from a single audience suggestion. The group has participated in the festival every year since its inception.
“We look forward to it every year because it is such a fun chance not only to watch other groups perform—other groups that we normally wouldn’t get to interact with—but also we get to socialize with them after,” said Sophia Bannister, BC ’19, the co-head of Control Top.
On the second day of the festival, Third Wheel hosted a workshop for all the groups with a professional improviser from the Upright Citizens Brigade, a well-known New York City based improv theater. Many of the improv groups that participated in the festival used forms and techniques practiced by the UCB Theater.
While the festival’s participating groups are all aiming to capture the attention and laughs of the same audience, many of the improvisers commented on the communal and supportive atmosphere of the event, as opposed to a competitive one.
“It has the potential to turn into something that could feel like a competition, but Third Wheel does a really good job of keeping it a really wonderful and a supportive place where we can all laugh together, learn from each other, and celebrate the fact that we all like to do this silly thing,” said Bannister.
Fruit Paunch, Columbia’s oldest improv group—founded by Jenny Slate, CC ’04—has also participated in the festival every year. This close-knit group uses an improv form employed by the Upright Citizens Brigade known as the Harold. It is a structured form of improv that has a specific order of scenes and games, though the group admits to following it loosely. Jordan Allyn, BC ’20, a co-head of Fruit Paunch, spoke of the supportive nature of the medium of improvised comedy.
“Improv is really such a group mentality. … There is no hierarchy, and it’s just all about we are equal and we are here to only make each other look better—it’s so not about me, it’s so about you and us,” said Allyn.
The Spare Tires Improv festival is an opportunity for comedic exploration both by the audience and the improvisers. Third Wheel Improv organizes this comedic event nearly a year in advance, and its efforts show in the performances, smiles, and laughs had by all.
“You just want people to laugh at an improv show, there’s no other way you want people to respond, you want the laughs,” said Gold.