On a Sunday afternoon, shortly after beginning his freshman year at Manhattan, Mike Lepetit ’06 trekked downtown to watch his first improvisational (improv) comedy performance, held at the iconic Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) Theatre.
He enjoyed it so much that in the weeks following, Lepetit and his Jasper Hall floor-mates began to routinely attend the weekend show, which has become known throughout the years for often featuring famous faces – on one occasion, Lepetit can remember hearing the founder of UCB, renowned comedian Amy Poehler, call into the audience, “Raise your hand if you’ve been to more than 100 shows here!” (They had). Other times, they watched Mike Myers, Tina Fey, and Alec Baldwin perform onstage. During the long hours spent waiting in line to gain entrance to the venue commonly referred to as UCB Theatre, the College friends began considering a possibility: what if they created an opportunity on campus for students to practice sketch and improv comedy?
Their idea materialized later in the semester into what is now Scatterbomb.
Soon after its formation in early 2004, the mostly student-run organization participated in two comedy events: the now-defunct Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Theatre Festival and the National College Comedy Festival (ComFest, for short.). The latter is still held at Skidmore University and has since been attended by Manhattan teams for more than a decade.
Thinking back to their first few shows performed in Jasper Lounge and in Thomas Hall’s Black Box Theater, Lepetit remembers: “We began to hear people talking about their plans for Friday night, as how they would revolve around our Scatterbomb performance. [The hype] was something we had done ourselves, and something that the College took a chance on and allowed us to do.”
Developing a Social and Professional Skillset
Although a few things have changed since the mid-2000s, like the location of performances (now in Hayden 100), others have remained constant. The rapport that’s built during the execution of every comedy skit, bit, and sequence Scatterbomb-ers act out onstage is still distinct, infectious and a little off-kilter, much like the art form itself, which is largely unscripted and created spontaneously by performers. Shows are formatted to begin with the same prompt to the audience. “Give us a word to start with!” members say, and, based on the response, construct scenes around it.
Throughout each academic year, Scatterbomb hosts a range of four to five shows that have recently begun to include one “bit show” – consisting of a series of skits that surround a common theme. In April, use of this format resulted in a “10 Minute Movie” starring Will Lamparelli ’17, Kevin Donald ’19 and Madison Blecki ’18, who spent that time summarizing the plot of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and impersonating several of the film’s characters.
At the end of the spring semester, the improv-ers also host Scatterprom, an end-of-year tradition that was begun by the group’s original members. (If you’re wondering whether the event features students donning formal wear on stage, as the name would suggest, you’d be correct.)
Together they remain a thriving cult community that affords students the opportunity to simultaneously fit in and stand out, laugh with abandon, and boost confidence and trust, two fundamental qualities for personal and professional growth.
“I’m a musician [in the Manhattan College Jazz Band], and nowhere else is it so important that you trust the people you’re performing with to have your back. That’s what’s special about improv [comedy]. You immediately need to connect in that way,” says Donald, who joined Scatterbomb his freshman year.
At the time, he was looking to make friends, so his resident assistant in Chrysostom Hall, Sam Martin ’16, recommended that he audition. At the time, Martin was also a member.
Two years later, Donald remains actively involved in Scatterbomb and the Jazz Band, and has contributed to the College’s Summer Research Program. This past summer, he was recipient of a Branigan Scholars Grant, which helped to support a project he collaborated on with a faculty adviser that studied aspects of Japanese media.
Off campus, Donald travels downtown to perform with Buscemi, an improv team of College alumni that hosts a monthly show in Ridgewood, Queens. To rehearse, the group convenes each week at an agreed-upon space somewhere in Manhattan.
In addition to Donald, Buscemi is comprised of Martin, Carolyn Egan, R.J. Liberto, and Drew Murphy, who all graduated in 2016, as well as Gavin Sass ’15 and Tom Englehart ’14. Each of them describe the mental release they feel through comedy, and the community they built during participation in Scatterbomb, as a tool that helped them fine-tune certain interpersonal skills.
Sass for instance, a former English major at the College, currently serves as a digital strategist for the multimedia agency OMD Worldwide. He’s found improv to be a great exercise for improving communication.
“A lot of times you talk to people, and the whole time they’re not listening because they’re thinking of ways they can talk about themselves,” he says. “Improv is a space where you can truly be present together with other people. It allows you to actually be heard.”
At this year’s Scatterprom, Buscemi hopped onstage with members of the College group for a special alumni jam that allowed the two groups to perform together as one. They also attended the campus event in a row specially reserved for alumni.