Earlier this month, posters plastered across Penn's campus by a new comedy group made three guarantees to all students: no applications, no interviews, and no experience required.
Penn Improv Society, formed this semester, allows any student to join, learn, and participate in improvisational comedy. The student group joins other organizations at Penn, such as the recently-established UPenn Game Research and Development Environment, in working to fight against the University's "hyper-competitive" club culture.
A majority of Penn's 450 student-run clubs enforce an application process for incoming members. Some, particularly those relating to finance and consulting, can have acceptance rates as low as 8.5 percent, which is lower than Penn's lowest-ever acceptance rate of 9.15 percent.
Penn Improv Society is hoping to work against that with its lowered barriers to entry. Before PIS, Without a Net was Penn’s only improv comedy group. The group has been around for over 30 years, but every year, they only accept a limited number of students. Now, those interested in improv have the option to join a noncompetitive, casual club to hone their skills.
PIS founder and College sophomore Brian Goldstein emphasized that no experience is necessary to join the club. Goldstein is a member of the Undergraduate Assembly, one of several different groups that have made efforts in recent years to make clubs less competitive. Most recently, members of the UA have launched a new initiative to provide reviews for Penn's different clubs in an effort to make them less competitive.
“It’s really all about having fun,” Goldstein said about PIS. “There is no exclusivity.”
College freshman Jennifer Richards said she joined the club because she enjoys comedy and wanted to pursue it in a stress-free environment while refining her improv skills.
“I got rejected after a six-hour-long audition from a selective group that was the only way I could pursue that passion [for improv comedy] before PIS came along,” she said.
The group holds meetings every Monday at 9 p.m. in Huntsman Hall room G88. They begin their weekly sessions with a group warmup before asking members to play smaller improv games and finally ending with a larger improvised scene.
Goldstein said another motivator for forming the group was the lack of inclusive comedy groups on campus. The underlying goal of forming PIS was to create a group that anyone could join and to create a space for those who want to get involved in comedy.
PIS has not been the only group looking to expand Penn's comedy scene. Earlier this year, College juniors Luke Clements and Lauren Sorantino began organizing "Funny Fridays," a new open-mic comedy night organized every month at the Platt Performing Arts House.
Clements and Sorantino said a reason they started organizing the monthly events was to encourage more students to interact with comedy. Sorantino, who is a podcast host with The Daily Pennsylvanian and a writer for Under the Button, said she believes there are more students at Penn interested in participating in comedy beyond those involved in the University's four comedy groups — all of which have auditions.
Goldstein agreed. “[Clubs] shouldn’t be about tons of interviews,” he said. “Clubs are about people with a common interest coming together and having fun.”