Campus Clubs: Inside a barrel of monkeys

It calls itself the “Barrel of Monkeys Improv Team,” and it’s easy to see why.

Like the line of toy primates that took its name from the idiom, “More fun than a barrel of monkeys,” the improvisational comedy team creates a good time from almost nothing.

They start with suggestions from the audience: a place, a person or an occupation. Within seconds, the volunteers at the front of the room have transformed from Ryerson students into mayors, vampire hunters and fishermen with Eastern European accents.

All of this takes place on Monday nights, hidden away in the Student Campus Centre.

“I always describe us as the team that no one knows about but everyone wants to join,” says Barrel of Monkeys captain Alexis Bernstein.

No one knows how true that sentiment is better than the group’s executive team. Bernstein, first mate Josh Conley and the team’s number three, Douglas Gibbens, all came to Ryerson with the hopes of joining an improv team. But the group was hard to find.

“When I came to Ryerson, (my friend) Alec told me that the school had an improv team, but I had absolutely no idea how to find it,” says Gibbens. “I was actively searching for it. (Then, on) campus groups day, he found somebody who knew of the team. He got somebody’s email.”

Bernstein, who has a background in comedy, also had to actively search for the team. “I actually found them online,” says Bernstein. “I emailed, never got a response, but somehow found when they were meeting and just showed up. It was the best decision I made (since) coming to Ryerson in first year. Honestly, it’s the best way to make friends and have fun on campus.”

This year, though, the club has an updated listing on Ryerson Students’ Union website as well as a Facebook page to help interested students locate the club.

It appears to be working. About 25 people, many of them new, were gathered at the club’s second open practice of the year.

“It’s incredible, the turnout this year,” says Bernstein. “It’s cool to see so many people in different programs all hanging out together and cutting loose on a Monday night.”

Not only are there new members at the weekly practices, there is also a whole crop of new talent.

“There’re so many people who have so much talent,” says Conley. “You see someone go up (to perform) and they’re amazing, and then they’re like, ‘Oh, this is the first time I’ve done improv.’”

Since the response and talent from students have been so great this year, Bernstein is hoping to have the team perform more often. Though she says the idea to form a competitive team is mainly to “broadcast that we have one,” working toward the common goal of competing helps members improve their skills as well.

“It’s a great way to get the team out there and get people working together on a common goal,” says Bernstein. “(For) those of us who want to do it just for fun — totally an option. Those wanting to take it one step further and maybe build (on their) skill sets, that’s a great option for them as well.”

The formation of the competitive team will depend on whether there are enough interested members willing to attend an additional weekly practice. There are also competition applications that need to be prepared.

Regardless, these monkeys will get the chance to perform outside the walls of the student centre in their annual end-of-year show. And after eight months of practice, it’s looking to be a barrel of laughs.

Ryerson’s Barrel of Monkeys Improv Team meets on Mondays from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Student Campus Centre’s Shadd Room.

This story is part of a series. Every day this week, The Ryersonian showcases one of Ryerson’s clubs to highlight what it’s all about.

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