When Boston University announced a campus-wide closure on March 11, Hannah Schweitzer and the rest of her improvisation comedy group, Liquid Fun, were devastated. They had been performing monthly shows and were preparing for their upcoming show slated for the first week after spring break.
Due to the campus shutdown, Liquid Fun had to cancel their shows for the rest of the semester. However, video-conferencing platforms such as Zoom, which many BU professors now use for remote lectures, are allowing communication, collaboration and comedy to exist within the digital sphere.
Schweitzer, a junior in the College of Communication, said the group’s 13 members had accepted their departure from campus and cancellations, until they decided to take advantage of the technological opportunity and experiment with the medium.
“Why are we restricting ourselves from continuing to practice and enjoy what we love to do? I think this is possible and if it doesn’t work, who cares,” Schweitzer said. “It’s not really high risk for us. We at least should try this out.”
Thus, Liquid Fun’s virtual improv was born, an event aptly named “We Bought a Zoom,” which will be live-streamed on Zoom this Friday at 8 p.m. EST. The title of the show, like most the group’s past show titles, is a pun-derived from the 2011 movie “We Bought a Zoo,” starring Matt Damon.
Liquid Fun was first established at BU in 1998. Every year since then, the group has participated in major comedy competitions, including the College Improv Tournament, where they won the 2018 Northeast region championship. In addition to their free live monthly shows on campus, they have traveled across Massachusetts performing at different colleges, theatres and bars, among other venues.
In the current atmosphere of prescribed social distancing due to COVID-19, worries of the psychological impacts of quarantine abound. Nevertheless, a study by the National Center for Biotechnology has shown that humor can help improve mental well-being by reducing stress and encouraging dialogue.
Temma Pelletier, president of Liquid Fun and a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she believes that, despite the unfortunate circumstances, comedy is enjoying a unique moment. For instance, she said many comedians are doing Instagram live stream shows, which makes comedy more accessible.
“People are really appreciating art in their daily lives more right now,” Pelletier said. “That shows you [that] when you’re not busy, what’s important to you is the media and the art that you like to consume. So I think, in that way, comedy is having a really cool moment right now.”
Sarah Bedell, a junior in CAS and member of the BU sketch comedy group Slow Children at Play, wrote in an email she believes there is a greater need for humor than ever. While her team chose not to perform anymore due to logistical challenges, she wrote in an email she is interested to see an improv show through Zoom.
“This pandemic is very surreal for the majority of people, including me,” Bedell wrote. “I think comedy is needed to keep people optimistic and regain their hope … [it] helps to create a distraction towards the severity that faces the world and helps lift everyone’s moods.”
Liquid Fun’s Facebook event for the online improv indicated that over 600 attendees were interested in watching them perform through the newly-found medium. Among the crowd is Pelletier’s mother, Vida Bauer, 60, of Port St. Lucie, Florida. Bauer, who has never seen any of her daughter’s live performances, said she is looking forward to Friday’s show.
“[I feel very] excited to have some entertainment because I haven’t left the house,” Bauer said. “[It] just will be nice to see [Pelletier] with her friends and see what kind of thing they can work up virtually because it’s a little different than having an audience that usually feeds off of them and being side-by-side.”
Aside from uplifting spirits, Schweitzer said Liquid Fun’s inaugural Zoom show may inspire improvements once the pandemic resolves.
“If it goes really well, what’s crazy is now we might be able to do great shows over winter break or a show over the summer or practice over the summer, which is something we’ve never done before,” Schweitzer said. “It might end up being a way for us to continue improv in the times when it’s difficult to do improv.”
One obstacle the group anticipates for their upcoming online show is performing without real time feedback from an in-person audience, which Pelletier said is a quintessential feature in improv comedy. She said Liquid Fun relies on suggestions from the audience, which they hope to receive using the chat feature on Zoom.
“One big way that you can tell if your show is going well or not, is if people are laughing. That just won’t exist,” Pelletier said. “We were talking about telling people [to] say LOL in the chat if they laugh, [so] we would know if we’re doing good.”
For now, the group is practicing as much as they can on Zoom, getting a grasp of the group dynamic on the virtual platform, Pelletier said.
Her love for comedy and performing aside, Pelletier said the key to keeping Liquid Fun active in light of the pandemic boils down to friendships.
“[They] are some of my best friends and I think that is what is propelling us to keep wanting to do stuff together and keep wanting to innovate and go onto a new platform … I have these relationships with these people and that’s what I’m really missing more than doing a show in BU Central,” Pelletier said. “Honestly, at the end of the day, [it’s] also just a fun excuse to hang out with my friends.”