Normally, The Crib in the back half of the Nebraska Union is a go-to study spot for University of Nebraska-Lincoln students. On most days, it’s almost completely silent, with the occasional sound of keyboard clicks and muffled laughter permeating the otherwise innocuous setting. Dim lights and filled seats draw attention to the sight of a small, dormant stage.
On the night of Friday, Oct. 21, however, this was not the case as performers from the Lazzi Improv Troupe took the stage for a night of impromptu fun. The brightly costumed company played improv games and ad-libbed stories for the audience.
The Lazzi troupe at UNL is known for their unique approach to improvised comedy. The troupe consists of 15 members alongside the club president, senior electrical engineering major Ian Brungardt, and improv coach Brandon Fogel. The club’s website claims the group hopes to not only provide entertainment for students on campus but to also help train new improvisers as they grow in their craft.
At the start of each school year, Lazzi holds auditions to scout new members. They look for people that will trust and support each other both live on stage and behind the scenes during rehearsals. Creativity and a willingness to learn are also highly sought after for the program. From there, prospective members are split into groups based on their skillset.
Brungardt said that by building up their troupe, Lazzi will be able to establish improv comedy as an important facet of culture in Lincoln.
“In Omaha, there’s a pretty developed improv scene, and some of the graduate students that we have came from other colleges where they had improv scenes and professionals and troupes that would come in and help them,” Brungardt said. “We’re unique in the sense that we’re kind of a hub of improv in Lincoln, and we’re trying to build from there and a lot of the resources that we have to get are from outside places,” Brungardt said.
Lazzi is used to seeking outsiders for its program. Brungardt posits that many members of the troupe were initially scouted from local comedy shows and posters on campus. These new performers oftentimes weren’t aware of the troupe’s existence prior to being sought after.
“We pull in talent from undergraduates or postgraduates,” Brungardt said. “We take everyone’s different experiences with improv, and we try to blend it into one unique style that works for us, as opposed to a college troupe in a different city that would have a professional group that they would be associated with.”
The coach for Lazzi this year, Fogel, came from an undergraduate program associated with the professional group ComedySportz. Brungardt added the coach position this year to help teach new members the principles of comedy.
Outside of rehearsals and shows, Lazzi also works with non-comedians at workshops designed to enhance their improv skills. The troupe doesn’t just hope to strengthen the efficiency of a group of friends or colleagues, but to show how improv is a useful tool in all aspects of life. Lazzi believes that anyone can learn and enjoy improv, regardless of a person’s strengths or weaknesses.
“We look for any group that wants to learn improv, because anyone can learn improv, and it helps everyone,” said Brungardt. “That’s kind of our mindset.”
Brungardt said that learning improv not only helped him as a creative outlet, but in everyday life as well, granting him the confidence to support the people around him and gain internships.
“Improv is something that is in literally everything,” said Brungardt. “We do performance improv, which is like ‘Oh, let’s go make up some dumb crap on stage and have people laugh at us,’ or whatever. But if you think about it, in your day-to day-life, everyone improvises all the time.”