Just like they do most Wednesday nights, members of the campus improv troupe Comedy Wars took the Bengal Lair stage March 19 in Memorial Union North.
But there was one difference this time.
After a seven-month tryout process, freshman Josh Ejnes and sophomore Drew Derstine joined the crew on stage. As the newest members of the sketch comedy group, Ejnes and Derstine spent most of the year attending rounds of auditions and Sunday practices, but they didn’t join a Comedy Wars performance until March.
The audition process for Comedy Wars began in September, with two groups of 15 potential members. That number was whittled down to eight, then to five.
Senior Zach Beattie, Comedy Wars captain, said the group looks for people willing to learn during the audition process.
“A lot of improv is actually getting out there and trying and failing,” Beattie said.
Eventually, Ejnes, Derstine and one other prospective member began an extended tryout process. By March, only Ejnes and Derstine were left.
“It felt long, but I kind of understand why it was so long because they have to put on such a quality show every week,” Ejnes said. “They have to make sure you’re ready.”
Being ready, Beattie said, involves having chemistry with the other members of the group.
Still, Beattie said he understands the difficulty that comes with the process. Ejnes and Derstine weren’t given an exact date for when they’d be put on stage.
“It’s absolutely frustrating,” Beattie said. “It’s very frustrating. It was frustrating for me. It was frustrating for the year in front of Drew and Josh. … Getting on stage, it’s something we see as a privilege.”
When group members decided Ejnes and Derstine would finally join the troupe on stage, the other members of Comedy Wars arrived at the new members’ respective doors, ready to celebrate.
“It was fun,” Derstine said, “but I can’t tell you much more than that.”
Even before beginning the tryout process, Derstine said he had chemistry with two Comedy Wars members. After first performing improv in workshops in middle school, Derstine was a member of the improv troupe Five Finger Discount at Parkway South High School in St. Louis with fellow Comedy Wars members Kyle Gunby and Clint Cannon.
“It definitely helped in that I was already friends with them,” Derstine said. “I kind of had a headstart in a way.”
Ejnes, on the other hand, had never performed improv prior to arriving at MU. The freshman English major from Rhode Island said his only other experience on stage was as a bassist in a band.
“I’ve always been kind of interested in comedy, and most of the people who do well as comedians or actors do improv,” Ejnes said. “So it’s always been something I’ve been interested in. I’ve just never had the opportunity to do it until I came here.”
Ejnes said the March 19 performance was the the largest crowd he’d ever performed in front of, far larger than his performances with MU Improv.
Though Derstine had performed in front of larger crowd as a member of Five Finger Discount, he said the March 19 crowd was the most receptive one he’d ever had.
Beattie was satisfied, too.
“I was very proud,” Beattie said. “As proud as an improv father could be.”