Senior Zach Beattie knows what it is like to not know what to say in front of a large group of people. After all, he has been doing it since his freshman year at MU.
But unlike others who find themselves in this position, Beattie does it intentionally.
Some would recognize Beattie as the former vice president of the Missouri Students Association and others as the co-founder of the student-run consignment store, Quirks, in the MU Student Center. But everyone at Bengal Lair on Wednesday nights knows him as part of the student improv group Comedy Wars.
Every Wednesday night, Beattie and fellow Comedy War members, junior Clint Cannon, junior Drew Kohler, sophomore Kyle Gunby, junior Jake Wallach and sophomore Abigail English, take the stage in front of sometimes more than 100 students without knowing what will happen during the hour-long performance.
But they don’t mind, and the students watching don’t either. The comedic improv group usually succeeds in producing a few laughs.
“My favorite thing about Comedy Wars is the energy of the crowd and the fact that the team can go out there and just perform and let loose,” Beattie said. “It’s almost just like hanging out with friends, but just hanging out with friends in front of people.”
Now in the final semester of his senior year, Beattie said performing in Comedy Wars has become a natural part of his weekly routine.
“Every year it gets easier, and every single show it gets easier,” Beattie said. “I’ve done dozens and dozens of shows, and it just does not feel right to not be in Bengal Lair on a Wednesday night.”
Aside from Beattie, members of Comedy Wars have all had prior improv experience coming into MU. Cannon and Gunby performed on the same improv team in high school, and Wallach started his own improv team at his high school.
“I was the captain of my (high school) improv team, and when I came here, I had a couple of students from my high school say, ‘Hey (Comedy Wars) is you. You’ve done this already. Give it a shot,’ ” Cannon said. “So I came to the shows and went to the auditions, … (and) I gave it a shot. It’s something that I’ve been interested in since high school, so this is the best outlet for that at Mizzou.”
According to the members, however, there are significant differences between performing improv in high school and performing in Comedy Wars.
“We can be a little more PG-13 (in Comedy Wars), which is nice,” Wallach said. “It’s a little bit more physical, more fast-paced. In high school it was a little slower because we were just learning to play a lot of different games. Obviously, we can go pretty far (in Comedy Wars), but we know where the line is, and we rarely cross that.”
While it may seem that improv doesn’t require a large amount of preparation and practice, the team practices every week and holds an extensive audition process for students interested in joining.
Comedy Wars holds auditions on a need basis, usually if a member is graduating that year. The auditions typically begin in the fall and consist of three rounds. After the three rounds of auditions, the Comedy War-hopefuls attend the shows and practice with the team.
“The audition process is really long,” Beattie said. “You go through three rounds of auditions, and then you practice with the team for six months before you can actually get on stage.”
The recruits only perform when the team believes they are ready, which usually takes a minimum of six months but could take as long as a year.
In addition to the long audition process, the team holds formal practices every Sunday night, as well as spending as much time together as possible.
“We practice every Sunday, and I benefit from practicing at MU Improv, which is the other improv group on campus,” English said. “The best way to practice is just to do it a lot and watch it a lot. Improv is unbelievably invigorating when it goes well, and when it doesn’t go well, you can always learn from it.”
Gunby agrees that the hard work put into Comedy Wars each week pays off.
“It’s a passion of mine. It’s something that I love,” Gunby said. “Luckily enough, I made it here. It takes a lot of time, and it takes a lot of hard work, but it pays off every Wednesday.”
Evidently, it was all worth it for Kohler as well, as he has been performing in the improv group since the spring semester of his freshman year.
“It is a brilliant, beautiful thing,” Kohler said. “It’s considered the new jazz.”
Kohler hopes to someday make a career out of improv.
“I like to make people laugh,” he said. “I like to make people happy, so if I could do that for the rest of my life then I’d like to.”
According to Cannon, he, Kohler and Wallach have plans to move to Chicago together after graduation to take classes focused on improv.
“Chicago (is) kind of like the mecca of improv, so I want to take classes there, and hopefully I’ll move up there with Drew and Jake, and we can all just kind of do it together,” Cannon said.
But until then, students and staff can find him, as well as the five other members of Comedy Wars, enjoying themselves on stage in Bengal Lair every Wednesday night during the school year.