Improvised comedy at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) kicked off its year on a high note with two-man interactive improv group Mission Improvable bringing in a large crowd and plenty of enthusiasm at the Memorial Union Building (MUB) Strafford Room on Sunday, Sept. 1.
Doors for the event opened at 8:40 p.m. for the 9 p.m. show, but some students saw themselves waiting in line for as long as an hour to get good seats. By 9, MUB employees started turning students away after reaching full capacity. While people filed into the Strafford Room, upbeat music, such as Panic! at the Disco’s “High Hopes” and Marshmello and Bastille’s “Happier,” set an energetic vibe for the show to come.
UNH’s own Improv Anonymous opened for the duo, playing three games that gave students a taste of what to expect the rest of the night. The first game was “Heaven, Hell and Purgatory,” where the actors’ moods and demeanor changed depending on what section of the stage they were on. The second game was called “Yearbook,” where four students posed for yearbook club photos and had to explain why they wanted to join Octopus Club. The last game was “Triple Dub” where an actor spoke to someone, and then that person would have to make up movements to fit the sentence and character.
Improv Anonymous Director Alana Gudinas gave Mission Improvable, led by Robert Rico, also known as Agent Suave, and James Heaney, also known as Agent X, a warm introduction to the stage. Mission Improvable started the show with a high level of energy, quickly moving around the stage and getting high fives from the crowd. The first activity had Improv Anonymous splitting the room down the middle, so one side was group A and the other was group B. Group C consisted of one student, Matt, who said he had never seen improv before. Group A had to shout chocolate, Group B had to scream vanilla and Group C had to sing “Milkshakes” by Kelis. This activity got the room excited and ready to participate.
The next game was “Open Option,” where the actors had to stop the scene and ask the audience to fill in holes. The scene started off at a dumpster outside of a restaurant, although other suggestions included a barn, Arizona and the Sahara Desert. Heaney demanded to know why his daughter’s doll was filthy, and the audience gave suggestions as to what it was covered in. While Rico chose “mysterious ketchup,” vomit and blood were also shouted out. Later in the scene, it was discovered that Rico’s character was part of the mafia, specifically of the SpongeBob family, but would give out a loan of $3 so Heaney wouldn’t have to be a soccer dad anymore.
Next, Rico and Heaney wanted to show off their smarts. They claimed that separately, they were not the sharpest, but together they created Dr. KnowItAll by standing closely together. Dr. KnowItAll took any and all questions from the audience such as “What is 12 times 12?”; “What is love?”; “How do I pay off loans?”; and “Why does Japan exist?” When Rico and Heaney heard someone ask about how to hide a dead body, they brought the student up on stage to create an even better Dr. KnowItAll. The way the doctor works is that the actors are only allowed to say one word at a time and it needs to follow whatever word the other actor said previously in order to answer the crowd’s pressing questions.
Two crowd members, or “agents in training,” were invited onto the stage for another game called “Comedy Cube,” where each actor had a different scene depending on what part of the cube they were in. The four scenes took place at a carnival, in the year 2012, holding a rock and using the word “exquisite.” Every time a whistle was blown, the cube shifted and the actors and scene changed. This got slightly confusing for a moment on stage because no one could remember if they needed to go right or left, but it created some running around that had the crowd laughing just as hard.
One of the crowd’s favorite games seemed to be “Moving Bodies,” where Rico and Heaney could only move parts of their bodies that were touched. Two “agents in training” went up to the stage and controlled the actor’s body movements while acting out a scene on a ranch. What the crowd seemed to love about this game was that Rico and Heaney’s bodies kept getting closer while the “agents in training” were frantically trying to have them step back or stop holding hands.
“It’s funny because I have horrible social anxiety,” Taryn Fortier, a first-year social work major and one of the “agents in training” involved in “Moving Bodies” said, “but I’ve been looking into joining an improv group here and I just saw the opportunity and I just went up. It wasn’t even awkward at all because they were being stupider than I was.”
Rico left the room for the next activity, titled “Blind Line.” Heaney took quotes and sentences from the audience and wrote them on a piece of paper, and then Heaney left and Rico did the same. The audience contributed quotes from movies like “Say What Again,” and “I See Dead People,” songs such as “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Despacito,” as well as Vines such as “This b**** empty, YEET” and “I look like a burnt chicken nugget.” The duo then had to use these sentences as they acted out a scene in a jail cell.
Improv Anonymous also got the chance to go up on stage with Mission Improvable to play a game called “Freeze,” where two people acted out a scene but someone would shout “Freeze!” and take an actor’s place to start a whole new scene. These scenes ranged from being in space or inside barns doing involved activities like ripping off a piercing, looking into a crystal ball and dancing to Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies.”
Mission Improvable ended the night with a game titled “Three Things.” Heaney and Rico said they always end with this game because “it’s almost like a magic trick.” Whatever the scene is, Rico claims he can guess it. Rico left the room and Heaney started writing three scenes with help from the audience. The first scene was baking cookies, but instead of a kitchen he was at Mount Rushmore, instead of chocolate chips the cookies have broken glass and instead of an oven they used a sandbox. The second scene was at a doctor’s appointment, but instead of a doctor’s office they were in Times Square, instead of a shot Rico received love and the doctor was revealed to be Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The last scene involved Rico and Heaney flying through bees with tutus on while with Michelle Obama. It was Rico’s job to guess the scene while Heaney acted it out talking in complete gibberish. In the end, Rico got all the scenes correct.
“People think it’s just one type of personality for improv but we are very high energy and our energy is maximized in two-person shows,” Rico said. “Our chemistry is friends already, so it helps us read each other’s energy on the stage.”
“Honestly, half of our show is whether or not the audience can bring the energy,” Heaney added.
“This is my first time performing at the University of New Hampshire and the audience here is very engaged,” Rico said.
In addition to Mission Improvable, Rico does his own comedy and emceeing at clubs and campuses throughout the country. More of his shows and comedy can be found on Instagram: @Robertrico. Heaney, along with Kevin Pollak from the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, is part of an improv podcast titled “Alchemy This,” which comes out every Tuesday and Thursday on alchemythis.com.