Our Audience & Format
The Sozo Group caught up with Ha Ha Men's Improv & Sketch Comedy Troupe to ask them what kind of events they perform at and who their target audience really is.
Written by Jess Olivito, Contributing Writer
When I sat down with the Ha Ha Men to find out who they've been entertaining, I thought I was going to hear a standard answer: churches. But in actuality, that wasn't the case. Instead, I learned that the group has done many performances for children, teenagers and adults in the past year. Actress and funny girl Angela Beckefeld recapped their shows like this:
"It's been fun to see the differences in how audiences have responded to us. For me, I was most surprised by the favorable response we've got from teenagers because that was the group I was expecting to have most trouble connecting with. Before our show, I was concerned that they'd think we were really lame - hearing the sound of crickets from the stage. But instead, we immediately spotted this rowdy group of girls (who were just being loud about everything) and I realized that we had an opportunity to make them our fuel. And by including them into the show, they became our instant groupies!"
Further, I was also shocked to hear that the improv team also got a favorable reaction from an even younger audience:
"Truthfully, 3rd and 4th graders were less responsive to us than the 5th-8th graders group, but we're confident that both groups enjoyed the show. And for our shows performed in family settings, we've noticed that the parents were really responsive as well. Coming from a teaching background, young children do not intimidate me - but I will admit that they're more challenging to reach. As a result, we’ve all spent a lot of time learning is how to adapt our shows for the various audiences and age ranges that we encounter. We've also practiced giving each other suggestions at rehearsals that speak to different age groups,” Beckefeld went on to explain.
After some helpful explanation, I learned that the team wasn't always clear on exactly what type of improv they should be doing. As a result, they experimented with several types depending on the type of show they had booked. Brooke Simkins was able to explain it best for me:
"We’ve done short form improv which was a more game-based - similar to the TV show Who’s Line Is It Anyway? In this scenario, we don’t get suggestions from the audience until we’re live in the space - so that’s the beauty of pure improvisation. But we also perform long form improv which involves starting a scene with some short monologues that involve specific characters. From there, we're able to expound upon these scenes by letting the audience help us determine where the story goes next. ‘Edit’ is the term we use to indicate a switch in the scene, which means either introducing another character or creating a secondary scene. The audience just loves participating in the story."
And from what I gathered, both forms of improv are working incredibly well for this comedy troupe. While the group specializes in traditional improv, they are very versatile. Using their improv skills and their ability to grab the attention of children and parents alike, Ha Ha Men was invited to perform as part of the Trinity Christian College’s Young Authors event in April. Children of all ages wrote and illustrated their own short books. Ha Ha Men chose five of the short stories to read and reenact. For the children, teachers, and the team, the night was pure joy.
"For us, the funniest part is when kids try to predict where the characters are going in the scene as the reader narrates the story, but then we will ‘Edit’ ourselves and start taking things away - which causes them to see us mess up the original story line, " explains the group's co-founder, Dave Ebert. In these moments, kids will giggle uncontrollably which expresses the fun they're having during the show.
As I continued to press about them about the different gigs that they've done over the last year, I also learned that our clean comedy group also performed at Second City and at another nightclub as part of a larger comedy show. For me, the most fascinating part about the nightclub show was hearing about how all the the other comedians were completely filthy and raunchy, but interestingly enough, the crowd really wasn’t that into it. But then, it was Ha Ha Men's turn to perform and the results were miraculous. Improviser Jim Bushy explained it like this: "It was incredible. We were the breath of fresh air that the audience needed at this point; it was as if we had lifted a heavy weight off the entire room. The audience immediately felt the freedom - freedom to laugh at our jokes without remorse or shame. They could be there with a date, a family member, or with a couple of friends and not be completely disgusted or embarrassed by our content."
Actress and team member Anna Yee then chimed in with yet another important distinction:
“Before we come off all judgmental, I feel the need to clarify something about our group. While we didn't particularly enjoy what was coming out some of the other comedians’ mouths, that didn't mean we still didn't love the people. We decide to be part of these shows NOT to condemn other improvisers or comedians. We don't stand in the back tearing them down or shy away from mingling with them after a show. Actually, it's quite the opposite. We just choose to use a different approach and think that our peers are starting to notice that there isn't a shortage of laughs by us doing this.”
Dave Ebert's wife, Bobbie, added this thought while reflecting on their nightclub gigs, “Probably the coolest thing about those crazy nights was just getting pure validation from God - that this ministry team is completely effective at being creative, funny and clean all at the same time.” Bobbie supports the team in many ways despite not being a primary performer in the group's shows. As someone with strong gifts of administration and discernment, she's an amazing encourager and prayer warrior for Ha Ha Men. She also attends almost all the team's practices and helps them warm up before performances.
In conclusion, I think what's most terrific about the Ha Ha Men Improv & Sketch Comedy Troupe is that their intention is not preach at their audiences. "We just go up there to do comedy - but we’re clean," explains team member Jim Bushy. "We aren’t going to swear or bring controversial subject matter to the stage. Instead, we're gonna keep things light and above board and even in doing that, we’re still really, really funny."
Ha Ha Men co-founder Dave Ebert summarized it like this: “Our shows provide moments where people can see the light. They might not have understood the light or where it was coming from...but they knew they were experiencing something different and they're attracted to it. I honestly think that as a clean comedy group, we have potential in a lot of different arenas, but think that our niche markets are mostly performing for non-profits and youth.”