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The HA-pocalypse is coming

Tae Andrews | Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The end is near. You may have seen this slogan scrawled on cardboard cutouts and draped on the shoulders of crazy people announcing the imminent arrival of the armageddon while loitering around campus quads, near the dining halls. Don’t worry: they’re not (entirely) insane, they’re just advertising for the HA-pocalypse, the Humor Artists of ND’s final show of the year, coming live to you tonight in the Hesburgh Library Auditorium at 7:30.

“Amusing and offending since 1996” (club slogan), the Humor Artists of ND (more commonly known as HA) are Notre Dame’s very own improv and sketch comedy club. This bunch of pranksters and wise acres is known for its eccentric comedy and ability to find the humor in any situation, even if it’s not immediately apparent. With humor ranging from high-minded to low-brow, HA’s unconventional takes on the day-to-day comedy inherent to life on campus and life in general are hilarious, and they even manage to toss in spoofs, goofs, crack-ups and put-downs to spare.

Club co-presidents James Spitalare and Steven Tortorello are the ringleaders of this pack of comics. In anticipation of tonight’s show, Tortorello sat down to answer a few questions about the HA-pocalypse. So why the name?

With previous shows including October’s HA-lloween, December’s HA-nnukkhah, February’s HA-rts and HA-lelluia, an Easter-themed show, the Humor Artists put on shows designed to correspond with holidays happening during the calendar year. “[The use of the HA theme] is sort of a running joke for us,” Tortorello said. Unfortunately, the HA-lleluia show was nixed this year. With the impending conclusion of the semester, Tortorello and company decided to come up with the HA-pocalypse, a show designed to fit in keeping with the end of the year motif.

If brevity is the soul of wit, then the HA-pocalypse won’t be lacking in soul power: the HA-pocalypse features a combination of 12 skits and 12 improv games mixed together. In describing the HA creative process, Tortorello said, “Usually someone writes a skit, and then everyone sits down and we read through it in practice. Afterwards the club officers sit down and pick out the best combination of all the skits. Some are ND-related, some are about pop culture, and there’s some intellectual or academic stuff and some cute stuff.”

In addition to presidents Tortorello and Spitalare, the four-person board also includes HA-storian Josh Talley and club treasurer Alyssa Ratzlaff.

This year’s show figures to be the best in a while, which might be a good thing, because if the advertisements are true and the end is near, there won’t be any more shows. “In the past three years, we’ve had way more skits to choose from for this show,” Tortorello said. He went on to say that he and the rest of the board had over 30 skits to choose from in selecting the 12 to use in the HA-pocalypse.

As club president, Tortorello continues to participate in the onstage antics and appears personally in several of the show’s skits. “I joined HA freshman year and at first, it was a really nerve-wracking experience,” he said. “You’re not sure if something will be funny or not. It’s kind of like riding a bike though; once you learn how to do it you know you can always do it again.

“It’s also like being a musician. For improv sketches, you just go out there and jam. There’s ups and downs, and sometimes your skits turn out to be flops or busts, but once you get out there and get the adrenaline going, it’s like being a rock star.”

With skits ranging from zombie invasions on campus to a literary standoff involving Percy and Mary Shelley, John Keats and William Wordsworth to a parody of the famous “Leroy Jenkins” YouTube video featuring Notre Dame clergy, the HA-pocalypse certainly isn’t lacking in variety. “It’s a comprehensive show,” Tortorello said. “It’s the best of the best with a little bit of everything.”

Without a doubt, that variety comes from having a broad and diverse cast. HA includes members of all different majors, ranging from freshmen to seniors, with a few grad students as well.

And the one common thread between all of them is their love of comedy. Monday night’s rehearsal was tantamount to a running roast, in which most of the cast members spent more time poking fun of each other than rehearsing their lines.

As you might expect, they’re all pretty funny in person and are hard to take seriously. One thing you might not expect is that they all finish each other’s sentences. So obviously, doing a roundtable interview with four cast members was an interesting experience.

Freshman Mitch Bradford commented on the experience of working with his cast members by saying, “I hate these guys.” Mike Johnson, a senior who describes his name as “the best in the world because everyone has it,” said, “We really enjoy our own shows” to which Bradford cut in, “…more so than the audience does. You have to have fun onstage, if you’re not then the audience knows and they won’t laugh.”

Sophomore Joe Kwaczala said, “It’s nice to challenge each other.” Bradford replied, “When you’re around funny people, it challenges you to be funnier.” Johnson said, “We feed off each other and make our skits bigger and better,” to which Kwaczala returned, “…at least we hope,” before pausing the conversation by jumping out of a second-story window of Washington Hall. After a momentary panic, Kwaczala’s head popped up from beneath the window sill, as he was crouching on a ledge on the outside part of the wall. Despite giving nearly everyone a heart attack, Kwaczala just smiled and said, “That’s why they call me XXX.”

Daredevil antics aside, sophomore Cassidy Russell explained, “We’re too attractive not to be onstage and too amusing to do straight theater.”

One thing is for sure heading into tonight’s show and the end of the semester: if stress and finals do manage to get us and the end really is nigh, at least we’ll all die laughing.