MU Improv’s first all-female team wins regional competition, qualifies for nationals

“There are a lot of people that just don’t think women are as funny as men,” sophomore Sydney Stephens said. “I really think we made a statement by winning (regionals).”

Since its formation in 2009, MU Improv has consisted of mostly men, with all 16 of its alumni being male. Before last year, there were only two women in the organization. Then came an influx of female improvisers who decided to make a statement with the creation of MU Improv’s first and only all-female team, Tit Punch.

The team, which formed in March, includes sophomores Sydney Stephens, Maddy Albers, Liza Anderson and Rachel Tiedemann, along with juniors Lily FitzGibbon and Mary Patrick White.

FitzGibbon said the group wanted a funny yet memorable name. They joked about calling themselves Unequal Pay but decided it was too harsh. When someone suggested Tit Punch, the name stuck.

“It sounded right, so we just went with it,” FitzGibbon said.

MU Improv performs 9 p.m. every Tuesday in The Shack. Its members practice every Thursday, learning the basics of improv from President Jason Clark, Vice President Chase Newman and Treasurer Mark Kim. Clark said the club is open to anyone who wants to join.

“We have people who are just doing (improv) for fun, and we have people who want to go on and seriously pursue it,” Clark said. “Our role is to teach you the bare basics, and from there, you can take it whatever direction you want to go. If you want to keep doing it casually, that’s fine. If you want to practice outside on your own and become really good, you’re welcome to do that, too.”

He said that once the women of Tit Punch had learned basic comedy, they began practicing on their own as a team, solidifying their skills.

Stephens said the group never expected to win anything. Yet the girls did just that on Dec. 5 when they won the College Improv Tournament’s Heartland Regional Championship.

“We were all shocked, and we all cried,” Stephens said. “It was so exciting because we went into the competition thinking, you know, we’ll do our best and learn something, and then we ended up winning it.”

FitzGibbon, the team’s captain, was on the stage when Tit Punch was announced as the winner. Her teammates and Clark joined her onstage to celebrate.

FitzGibbon agreed with Stephens that the win was a shock, but Clark thought otherwise.

"As well as the other teams performed, I was not surprised that Tit Punch won,” he said in an email. “They were the most consistent and funny team there."

Tit Punch placed second to Missouri State University in their division after the first round of competition. One of the second-place winners would advance to the finals as the wild-card team, and the judges chose Tit Punch.

“We worked really hard to get to the competition and we trained a lot for it, so it was really rewarding to see that even as second-place winners, they wanted us to compete,” FitzGibbon said.

Tit Punch is only the third wild card to ever win the regional competition.

“We were excited just to place, just to get a shout-out,” Stephens said. “We definitely thought we wouldn’t win the finals.”

She said the group decided to have as much fun as possible in the final round because they believed it was their last chance. They ended up receiving a unanimous vote from all three judges, meaning that regionals was not their last chance after all. The win qualified Tit Punch for the CIT national competition, which will take place on April 23, 2016, at the Vittum Theater in Chicago.

FitzGibbon said that after Christmas break, the team will start fundraising for the trip to nationals. They plan to raise money via performances not only by MU Improv, but also by teams from other universities.

“We were thinking about inviting some of the finalist teams from regionals to come to Mizzou and perform at The Shack or at Speakers Circle,” FitzGibbon said.

Tit Punch is the second MU Improv team to win CIT regionals and the third to qualify for nationals. Additionally, Tit Punch is only the second all-female team to ever qualify for nationals.

Stephens said she hopes the team’s accomplishment sets an example for other women interested in acting and comedy.

“There are a lot of people that just don’t think women are as funny as men,” she said. “I really think we made a statement by winning (regionals).”

Clark agreed that Tit Punch disproves the stereotype of men being funnier than women, especially since MU Improv was previously seen as a club for men.

“All the women that are watching (Tit Punch) perform every Tuesday at the Shack and seeing them going to nationals (know) that MU Improv isn’t a boys’ club anymore,” Clark said. “They can feel comfortable enough to come to our organization and perform with us.”

FitzGibbon said that there are no restrictions on where an improv performance might go. Some of Tit Punch’s sketches at regionals were about a butterfly catcher being burned at the stake and a wooden duck pushing a grandmother down the stairs.

“That’s the best thing about improv,” she said. “It can literally go to places you would never even think about.”

Stephens said the bond between the teammates is vital to their chemistry while performing.

“What makes our team really click onstage is that we’re all friends outside of improv,” she said.

Tit Punch will face 11 other teams at nationals, which Stephens said is going to be tough but exciting competition.

“It’s exciting right now because we have time to prepare ourselves, but I can tell that when it gets (closer), it’s going to be really nerve-wracking,” she said.

FitzGibbons said Tit Punch has a lot of support from their families, fellow improvisers and alumni. She also said the national competition will be a good experience for the team and that they could possibly end up winning.

“I’m really confident in our team,” she said. “I’ve seen us grow a lot, and I would never have imagined us winning regionals. I can see us taking it all the way.”

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