Even if you don't feel like laughing, they'll get you out of your seat before the night's over. And with more than 400 sketches, 50 games, and audience participation, no two shows are ever the same. They're the Garrens Comedy Troupe, and they've become a campus tradition.
"By now the Garrens are sort of an institution," says Garrens founder Eric D. Snider, a senior from Lake Elsinore, Calif., majoring in journalism. "They've been around five and a half years. It's almost like the Varsity Theatre or the games center in the Wilkinson Center."
The shows mix a variety of sketches and games (structured improv sketches), emphasizing audience participation and current events. One example of Garrenesque comedy fare is a musical parody on Leonardo DiCaprio, male lead of the movie Titanic, in which a pianist sings about taking his girlfriend to the movies, where she falls in love with DiCaprio.
Their improv games use buzzers, bells, and props. In one game, an officiator monitors the cast, sounding a buzzer if he or she doesn't like what a cast member says. The cast member then makes attempts at a better line until the officiator is satisfied and rings a bell.
Sometimes the cast collects items from the crowd and uses them as props around which to develop scenes. Or the cast asks the audience to write down familiar phrases such as a line from a recipe, a mother's rule, or a famous movie quote, then reads the lines in a scene, incorporating them into the dialogue.
"Whatever happens, you work it in," says Lincoln Hoppe, the troupe's director and an original cast member. "Audience participation is one of our main thrusts. It makes it more of an experience for everyone who comes."
And that's why no two shows are ever the same, even though the Garrens perform two shows every Friday in fall and winter semesters.
For Snider, the philosophy behind the Garrens is simple: "Gee, isn't life funny?" But Hoppe has a more defined philosophy in mind. "The Garrens is about communication, communication to move people to a higher plane," he says. "We want to provide clean, uplifting humor. We want the audience to come away better people."
The idea for the club began before Snider came to BYU. In the summer of 1992, one of Snider's friends came back from college in Boston and bragged about the comedy troupe at his school. Snider decided he would join the comedy troupe at BYU, but he found that BYU didn't have one. So he formed his own.
There were nine original Garrens: seven men and two women. The Garrens Club's first performance was free and packed. Every show thereafter cost $1. Club life was hectic for its members. The club met Tuesday to select the week's material, rehearsed sketches on Thursday, and performed on Friday.
But because of the difficulty in running a revenue-generating club through BYUSA, the Garrens Club disbanded in 1994 and formed the Garrens Comedy Troupe in its place. While it is no longer a BYU-sponsored club, there is no difference as far as the audience knows; the troupe continues to perform on campus and its cast members are still BYU students and alumni.
In addition to BYU performances, the Garrens Comedy Troupe has performed in other locations in Utah, California, and Washington. The Garrens also boast a Web site (http://www.garrens.com) with the troupe's history, player biographies, calendar, and sound bites from shows.
As the Garrens increase their repertoire and performance area, they hope their success continues. Snider thinks going to a Garrens show will always be in style.
"It's one of the few dates that hasn't become cliché," he says. "I mean, you can only hike the Y so many times. This is something that's genuinely funny and relatively inexpensive here on campus."