On the evening of November 17, at Smoky Hill High School, Colorado’s first-ever Teen Comedy Contest was held. In a cafeteria transformed by talented teen techies into a theater space complete with stage lighting, over fifty students from six high school improv troupes around the Denver area gathered together. They brought their energy, excitement, and chops for making-stuff-up-on-the-spot, all to benefit a great cause…and to compete for improv glory.
With troupe names like the Flustered Mustards (Heritage HS), Method to Madness (Cherokee Trail HS), Regular Irregulars (East HS), Not Supposed to Be Here (Legend HS), Mixed Nuts (Standley Lake HS), and Spontaneous Combustion (Smoky Hill HS), it was bound to be a fun and funny evening. And that it was. There were nearly 100 people in the audience, and when troupes asked for suggestions for their scenes, it was often difficult to hear the offers amid the enthusiastic din. But the teen improvisers were pros, finding their suggestions, justifying them into their scenes, and repeatedly being rewarded with abruptions of laughter and applause from the audience.
Also competing were eight standup comics from the high schools. They all shined with presence, delivery, and some savvy punchlines in their two-minute sets. Many of them were performing standup in front of an audience for the very first time.
Smoky Hill’s troupe is led by professional improviser, Adrian Holguin, who has directed Spontaneous Combustion for 20 years and has coordinated a unique experience for them—taking them to the Chicago Improv Festival every other year using ticket sales from the monthly shows. This month, Adrian and this bighearted team agreed to donate 100% of their earnings from the night’s show to the Sarcoma Foundation of America (SFA). Sarcoma is a cancer of the tissues that are often overlooked or misdiagnosed, but account for 20% of childhood cancers. SFA works to find a cure.
Donating their time and expertise to judge the competition were three professional improvisers who have thousands of shows under the collective belts: Susan Knudten, who co-founded Impulse Theater—Denver’s longest running show; Kerstin Caldwell, founder of Gaining Perspective and YES! Lab; and Brian McManus, winner of the Colorado Thespian's 2017 Dedication to Theater Education award. They did not have an easy task deciding the winners.
After a two-hour show that culminated in a spirited all-school improv jam, the awards were announced. Isabella Schmidt and Josh Morton from Heritage’s Flustered Mustards took home the “Most Memorable Scene” and “I’ve Got Your Back” awards. Smoky Hill’s improv troupe was awarded “Outstanding Ensemble,” and two of their standup comics received trophies as well: Charlie Hunsucker for “Originality” and McLeod Shea for “Most Memorable Bit,” in which he hilariously compared dating to searching the WHERE’S WALDO? section of a bookstore. From East High School, T Jackson got the “Big Choices” trophy (he performed shirtless, with marker-enhanced abs); and Abraham Elahmadi won the YES! award for his commitment to singing a song about being hoarse…as if he was hoarse.
Many of the scores were close, and if there had been more award categories, other winners might have included: Mixed Nuts for “Driving Super Far & Still Bringin’ It;” Eden Farr for “Best Pratfall;” Legend High School for “Jumping In;” and Timmy Pamintuan for “Most Awesome Improvised Slam Poem.”
The evening was inspired by a young adult novel, A Messy, Beautiful Life—about a teen improviser who copes with a heartbreaking chondrosarcoma diagnosis by entering a comedy contest and finding her lifeline through the punchlines. The teen comedy contest in the book was brought to life and, at five dollars a ticket, the live event raised $500 for the cause.
Overall it was an inspiring evening of laughter and bringing communities together.
The donation page will still be open until November 30, if you’d like to consider donating to the cause: https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/team/teen-comedy-contest-for-sarcoma-awareness
Sara Jade Alan is the author of the young adult novel, A Messy, Beautiful Life (Entangled Teen, 10/02/17). She has performed in more than a thousand improvised and scripted shows and was a winner of the USA Network’s College Comedy Tour. When she’s not writing or performing, she teaches workshops with Lighthouse Writers Workshop’s Youth Writers Program, Girls Leadership, and The Novelistas. www.sarajadealan.com