Laughter is Good Medicine: Improv Underground at Hillsdale
Written by Mary Caroline Whims
It’s 8:55 on a Thursday night. In the Olds Dormitory, music is pumping and laughter is beginning to bubble up as students spill through the double doors into the main lobby. Someone is tugging chairs and sofas into neat rows, which start filling with people almost as soon as they’re placed. It’s time for Hillsdale students to ditch the homework and have some laughs with a well-loved campus tradition: Improv Underground.
The event is staged every other week, but for many students it can’t come soon enough. At a school that prides itself on serious academics, this decidedly un-serious program consistently draws a crowd from all across campus, proving that it’s Hillsdale’s secret antidote for midterm blues.
On the makeshift stage, senior Taryn Murphy riffles through notes, while her classmate Nick Macaluso plans with another member of the team. The clock ticks down: it’s nine o’clock. The music stops, and Nick turns to lead a rousing breakdown. “Welcome to Improv Underground, everyone.”
Soon, the room is all commotion. Taryn, Nick, and sophomore Andy Walker start things off, but before long, other students jump in, miming everyday actions in a fast-paced game of Freeze. Conversation flies over a range of wild topics, including everything from prayer to vaccines to eye shadow application. In another game called Script Change, students choose a simple action (say, “cleaning up”) and then continue that action in completely different settings. Breathlessly adjusting to calls from the audience, two students switch genres from zombie-horror to the Wild West. Giggles become guffaws and soon the room is rocking.
As the night progresses, it becomes clear that Improv truly is open to everyone. This, in fact, was part of the vision behind its founding. Improv Underground was built on an old tradition of comedy nights in the Olds lobby. While Olds is a freshman girls’ dorm, the promise of a good laugh consistently drew students from all years and all areas of campus. Taryn went to her first Improv as a prospective student. She was immediately hooked.
“You get to see sides of your friends that you’ve never seen before,” she says. “It’s a super welcoming and warm environment, and I think people can just relax.” The current team does its best to encourage new people to jump in and start acting. “We wanted to make it something that was entirely communal, and that people felt that they were welcomed into, not just us putting on a show about ourselves.”
Nick agrees. “My favorite part about being in Improv is getting to watch people discover creative theatre, especially those who have never had previous experience with it. It’s really fun to witness!”
In starting Improv Underground, the team felt that they were meeting an important need on Hillsdale’s campus. It’s no secret that Hillsdale takes its academics seriously. As students good-naturedly poke fun at college life, everyone is reminded not to take it too seriously.
“I think that so much of what we do at Hillsdale is to nourish our souls, and we forget that laughter and being silly can nourish our souls too,” says Taryn. “That’s one of the most important parts of daily life—learning to smile when you feel like you’re overwhelmed—and that’s what Improv does.”
A merry heart does good like medicine, and going to Olds on a Thursday night is Hillsdale’s best-kept secret for midterm blues. If you’re looking for a laugh, be sure to stop by. There’s always room.
Mary Caroline Whims, ’21, studies English at Hillsdale College, where she serves as editor-in-chief of Fool’s Talk magazine. On a given day, you can find her playing in an intramural basketball game, waxing poetic about church windows, or postponing homework to make a good conversation last longer.
Published in November 2020