Penn State’s Funniest Students: Meet Full Ammo Improv
Sam Russell asks improviser Emily Kindya for the top seven types of ammo to use in a slingshot.
Without skipping a beat, the Full Ammo president responds,
Your report card.
Your engagement ring ‘cause you broke up.
A shoe that just fell apart.
Your dinner that you burnt.
Bagel with butter on it.”
The challenging improv game, Top 7, is just a warmup for the members of Full Ammo Improv. The group performs long form, improvisational sketches with complex storylines, often featuring multiple characters, where everything is created the moment it is performed. I had the pleasure of sitting in on one of Full Ammo’s practices, and I witnessed firsthand the wit and talent each member had to offer.
Improvised theatre gained mainstream notoriety in the late ’90s, after Amy Poehler founded the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City. Successful actors often utilize their background in improv. Both Tina Fey and Steve Carell are alumni of The Second City in Chicago, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, of Comedy Centrals “Broad City,” met through their experience at the Upright Citizens Brigade, and Kristen Wiig started her acting career at The Groundlings Theatre in Los Angeles.
The best improvisers think on their feet and work well with others to create seamless scenes without any preparation. Though practicing improvisation is required to excel at the craft, there is no preparation before an improv show. The members of Full Ammo are like athletes. They practice their sport three times a week to prepare for their performances. And like any team sport, “there is not supposed to be a funniest person, there isn’t a star,” Kindya said.
Micheal Regan, a junior interdisciplinary digital studio major, elaborated: “Because it’s a team thing, sometimes the goal is not necessarily to make people laugh at what you are doing. So you may phrase a question or give someone an opportunity to tell a funny joke. So a lot of times you don’t want to judge it on how much you get people to laugh, but on how well you’re working with your scene partner.”
Full Ammo members do crack dumb jokes, but they are more often focused on setting up elaborate scenes that are conducive to funny situations. During one scene, Morgan Nalley introduced a safety inspector, played by Regan, to the glass factory she managed. The supporting characters immediately recognized the foundation Nalley was establishing, and began acting out various dangerous scenarios.
“You have to play to your highest intelligence,” said Nalley, a senior film major. “Don’t just go for the easy, crass joke.”
While Full Ammo usually keeps audiences laughing, the group has experienced a few awkward moments on stage. This past year, Full Ammo performed at UCB’s improv festival in New York City. Their set was at 2 a.m., and there were only three people in the audience.
To begin a scene, an improviser often asks the audience for a word to inspire the scene. “The suggestion we got was ‘dildo.’ And the guy who said ‘dildo,’ said it, and left, so he didn’t even stay for the performance,” Kindya said. “We did scenes to silence. It was terrible.”
Luckily for Full Ammo, the majority of their on-stage experiences are more positive. The troupe keeps audiences laughing at their local State College performances, as well as at various improv festivals in Philadelphia, New York City, and Los Angeles.
Though the members of Full Ammo take their craft seriously, many of them do not plan on pursuing careers in the entertainment industry upon graduation. The skills required to improv, however, can translate to everyday life. Dan Munck, a freshman mechanical engineering major, noted that Tina Fey’s book, “Bossypants,” lists several ways that improv applies to the workplace.
Kindya successfully utilized her improvisational skills when interviewing for summer internships. She ended up working for a public relations company in Manhattan. Full Ammo alumnus, Michael McDonagh, used his improv background during his post-graduation job search. His improv background gave him an edge when applying for various competitive finance jobs. Outside of improv, participants like Kindya and McDonagh continue to think on their feet, listen actively, and work as a team.
Be sure to catch one of Full Ammo’s upcoming shows: Tuesday and Wednesday at 8 p.m. and Thursday at 9 p.m., all in room 6 of the Theatre Building. If joining a group of quick witted comedians sounds like something you would be interested in, Full Ammo hosts auditions at the beginning of every semester.