Comedy: A New Type of Sport

Players participate in an improvisational game by finishing each other’s sentences.

The whistle sounds.

“Reverse,” Christine Welsh-Buck, the coordinator for UPA’s ComedySportz high school league team, says.

The players on stage—seventh graders Nicole Eike, Adam Janse and freshman Julia Wong—perform their actions in reverse as their teammates watch, dissolving in laughter.

During an after-school rehearsal on Jan. 9, members of the Unified Pun Agency, UPA’s inaugural ComedySportz team, learned and ran through games they performed in their match on Jan. 18.

In “Forward/Reverse,” the game Eike, Janse and Wong modeled, “the referee sends the scene back and forth at will, as though scanning a scene in a DVD, sending the athletes into a frenzy,” according to CSz Worldwide, the official website for ComedySportz.

“The referee blows a whistle when he or she thinks that we did something funny,” Eike said. “Then, we have to do it in reverse and it’s really fun.”

In ComedySportz, a form of improvisational comedy, two teams play and perform selected games for the audience’s laughter and for points as well.

“You get to interact with the audience,” player freshman Blain Michael said. “You get to make jokes, and there isn’t a particular script you have to go by.”

The Unified Pun Agency is composed of the blue team and the red team, the Mischief Makers, which play against each other in matches at UPA. At matches against local high schools, high school players are collectively known as the Unified Pun Agency.

“Basically, it’s comedy not about sports, but it’s comedy that’s played as a sport,” drama and dance teacher Catherine Dietrich said. “One of the biggest things with ComedySportz is keeping the energy and the flow going of the show.”

As the teams create each scene on the spot, usually based on audience recommendations, a referee stands by to keep the match moving and call out fouls. According to Dietrich, the two types of fouls are the Groaner Foul and the Brown Bag Foul.

ComedySportz strives to uphold a higher level of comedy so if a groan-worthy pun is told, the referee will call the Groaner Foul, in which the offending player will have to issue an apology to the audience. If the audience does not accept the apology, the team loses a point.

The Brown Bag Foul is called when either an audience member or player says a sexist, racist or crude comment, and they must place a paper bag over their head for the remainder of the ongoing game.

Currently serving as a liaison between ComedySportz San Jose—the local chapter of CSz Worldwide—and UPA, Dietrich along with Welsh-Buck were responsible for planning and initially introducing the comedy show to interested students this school year.

“It was one of our drama assignments that we had to see a live show,” Janse said, “and the one that we’ve heard about was called ComedySportz. So I went there with my friends, and I really loved it. My teacher, Ms. Catherine, she started the idea of starting a league here, so once I heard about it, I knew that I wanted to join.”

It took Dietrich less than a year to establish the league at UPA, during which she negotiated with the administration, coordinated with Welsh-Buck and met with the Theater and Dance Boosters, taking them to watch a professional ComedySportz match in downtown San Jose.

Although UPA’s high school ComedySportz league is open to all grade levels, only high school students have the opportunity to compete against other high school teams from around the Bay Area.

After the final match at UPA on March 15, Dietrich said, high school players will participate in the league championship in late spring, most likely at the CSz Arena in downtown San Jose.

“What I love about ComedySportz most, and in the improv world in general, is the philosophy behind improv itself,” she said. “It is, I think, one of the most transformative things that I’ve ever run across and I’ve ever seen for people.”

The final match will be on March 15 at 7 p.m. in the Horton. Admission is $10 at the door.

To learn more about ComedySportz at UPA, check out the video.