Local improv group Paperback Rhino joined Upright Citizens Brigade for comedic performance


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The members of Upright Citizens Brigade are challenged on stage to “say yes” to suggestions from the audience — even if it is as strange as a title of “Tampon Express.”

Through the creative process of improv, the members have to figure out a way to honor that suggestion, but they also make it into a play or scene of their liking.

“I think what’s nice about improv is it’s basically putting onstage the creative process,” said Zack Willis, a member of Upright Citizens Brigade.

The Upright Citizens Brigade will perform at 10 p.m. Friday in the IMU Main Lounge. Admission is available at the IMU Hub for $5 in advance, $7 the day of the show. Iowa City’s only improv troupe, Paperback Rhino, featuring student comedians from the UI, will open.

Paperback Rhino is Iowa City’s longest-running student improvisational group; it is made up of 12 UI students.

For the second year in a row, Paperback Rhino has been crowned the Upper Midwest Regional Champions of the College Improv Tournament, and the group looks forward to attending nationals in the spring.

UI senior Mary Fessler, who joined the group as a freshman in 2008, said the goal at nationals this year is to have the best performance possible, regardless if the troupe places.

“When we come off stage, we want to feel satisfied when we are done and that we had fun onstage,” she said.

But in the meantime, the group is focusing on finishing up its season and its upcoming show with the Upright Citizens Brigade.

During Fessler’s involvement with Paperback Rhino, she said, this is the first time the troupe is opening for a touring improv company.

“We really want to put on the best show that we can, and it’s something we have been working on for a long time,” Fessler said. “We want to live up to being a worthy opener.”

When choosing these two groups to perform, it was an easy decision for Logan Hood, the executive director of comedy for the Campus Activities Board.

“I was looking to change up our style, and improv was just that,” Hood said. “[The Upright Citizens Brigade] is an amazing group that has had huge stars go through its theater and continues to today, and Paperback Rhino has a huge following and accolades to prove it is a great group.”

The Upright Citizens Brigade’s theaters in both New York and LA not only provide classes for students, they also host some of the country’s most widely recognized comedians, including Amy Poehler, Ed Helms, and Rob Riggle.

The group also has its own touring company, giving audience members the chance to see rising stars live on stage.

Willis, part of the 20-member touring cast, will perform in Iowa City this weekend. The New York native has been taking class with Upright Citizens Brigade since 2009, and he has been a part of a house team for about a year and a half.

The 26-year old is a member of the Regulars, a group that performs weekly at Harold Night in the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater.

While he enjoys performing during those shows for an older audience, he said, he likes the college crowd on tour because he thinks a lot of students are fans of sketch comedy.

“The college crowd is more likely to have seen the [Upright Citizens Brigade] sketch show and is familiar with its own school’s improv groups,” Willis said. “The energy is always great, and they tend to understand our references a little more.”


Upright Citizens Brigade, featuring Paperback Rhino
When: 10 p.m. Friday
Where: IMU Main Lounge

Admission: $5 in advance, $7 day of show

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