SNAFU brings long-form improv to UT

Josue Moreno

An erotic game of Pictionary, coconut-induced head injuries at Fenway Park and talking vegan health bars are all part of a day’s work for SNAFU, UT’s only long-form improv comedy troupe.

Every other Friday, group members assemble to produce outlandish scenes without a script. Founded in 2013 by former student Tanner Kalina, SNAFU — which stands for Situation Normal All Fucked Up — is getting more laughs and larger audiences than in past years.

For nearly a decade before the creation of SNAFU, Gigglepants dominated the improv circuit on campus with its audience-driven short-form style, typically relying on rules and games to provide opportunities for laughs. Kalina created SNAFU to broaden the type of improv entertainment available to students.

Radio-television-film senior Logan Smith, a member of SNAFU, said the group’s long-form format encourages in-depth development of characters and scenes.

“In short form, you’re trying to find relationships and characters within the game you’re given,” Smith said. “In long form, you start with the characters and try to find the game within a scene. It’s about pursuing dynamic and pursuing personality and just allowing them to grow.”

Daniel Abramson, radio-television-film senior and troupe member, said he doesn’t think one style is better than the other.  

“Whatever you do in improv, you’re right,” Abramson said. “The difference is that in short form, the silliness comes from these contrived rules of the game.”

Shows often begin with a vague idea — such as a word yelled out by an audience member or a post on Craigslist’s “missed connections.” From there, complex stories emerge.

Kim Tran, radio-television-film and biochemistry senior and troupe member, said sometimes a scene’s central joke may be the result of something subtle, such as the facial reaction of a cast member to a line or a character’s personality.

“We can start a scene not trying to be funny at all,” Tran said. “And the humor comes from a genuine reaction to what’s being said. As soon as that happens, we chase it.”

While the end product is almost always funny, performances can occasionally drift into non-comedic territory. Troup member and undeclared junior Caleb Fleischer said that surprising the audience and taking them to places they didn’t expect is an important aspect of improv.

“That can be more rewarding than laughs,” Fleisher said. "Last year, we did a scene where a guy gave a lot of presents to his wife, but they were always endangered species. Somehow it evolved into a legitimate discussion of whether or not animals possess consciousness. Sometimes stuff like that happens and you just go with it.”

Biology and Plan II senior Alexia Schill, who has attended nearly every SNAFU performance, said exploring these topics makes performances more dynamic and memorable.

“They’re not limited to anything, so there’s more opportunity to stumble into something uncomfortable,” Schill said. “But that makes it interesting. They create a little universe that a scene is in, and it’s all from nothing.”