February 24, 2012 | Myrna Anderson

Upright Citizens Brigade is coming to Calvin, and Calvin Improv is the opening act.

When the renowned New York-based improv team Upright Citizens Brigade takes to the Covenant Fine Arts Center stage on March 9, 2012, they’ll be following a homegrown opening act: Calvin’s Improv Team. “We are a little nervous,” confessed Improv member and Calvin senior James Randall, “but we’re excited to open for a group with such a great reputation.”

Upright Citizens Brigade, which originated in Chicago, was the launching pad for such comedians as Amy Poehler and Horatio Sanchez. “It’s the kind of thing where we know how talented they are …,” Randall said. “We want to make them look good, have a real strong opener and keep people interested and excited—and hopefully show them that we’re fundamentally sound.” 

The event, sponsored by the Calvin Annual Fund, is part of Laughfest 2012, Grand Rapids’ 10-day celebration of the healing power of laughter.  Proceeds from the festival—which features stand-up, improv, authors, film, community showcases and other comedy forms—will benefit Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids. The Calvin show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12.50 for the general public and $5 for students.

The Calvin improv-ers are still figuring out which games they’ll play for their opener, but they’re not over-preparing:
“It wouldn’t be improv if we knew what we were going to do,” reasoned teammate Dara Veenstra.

Calvin’s student activities director Ken Heffner is the person responsible for putting the double act together, and he’s excited about bringing the Upright Citizens Brigade to Calvin. “They’re like the Second City of New York," Heffner said. The event is something of an experiment, he admitted: “We haven’t done comedy at Calvin for years and years.”

Laughter: the best medicine

Calvin Improv is not Calvin's sole performance contribution to Laughfest, nor is the CFAC the college's sole Laughfest venue. The alumni group River City Improv will perform at the Ladies Literary Club 7:33 p.m. on Saturday, March 17, 2012. “It brings a different crowd to our shows that might not necessarily come before. We know that we’re supporting a good cause,” said RCI member Rick Treur of the event. Treur, the director of Calvin's annual fund, was a Calvin Improv member as a student and a co-founder (with Jeanne Leep '91) in 1993 of River City Improv following his graduation. "We both missed improv when we graduated, so we thought, 'Let's found our own troupe.'"

In the 18 years since, the 11-member River City Improv has performed more than 1,000 shows in dozens of cities. "We're actually one of the oldest improv teams in the country that still has its original members," Truer said. He’s seen the healing benefits of laughter: “We have people coming to our shows who are caring for ailing parents and need to get out of the house and … coming to River City Improv is therapeutic,” he said. “You realize that people can connect with laughter on a lot of different levels.”

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