Documentary about Humor Artists of ND wins award, group builds friendships
Renee Pierson | Wednesday, January 29, 2020
Last weekend, senior Gretchen Hopkirk won the Audience Choice Award at the Student Film Festival for her documentary, “Don’t Be Afraid to F*** Up.”
(Editor’s Note: Hopkirk is a video producer for The Observer.)
Hopkirk’s victory was shared with the subjects of her film — the Humor Artists of Notre Dame.
The Humor Artists are the only improv comedy team on campus. Each show is unique, but the performers said they develop close personal relationships with one another during practices in order to build trust on stage.
Inspired by the members of the group, Hopkirk — a Humor Artist herself — said she created the film mainly to portray what the group means to her. Her work would be recognized as one of the standout pieces at the festival.
“My primary concern was making myself and my friends happy,” Hopkirk said. “I didn’t really think or expect that as many people would like it as they did.”
She said the documentary’s title lets on to its message in more ways than one.
“It’s supposed to be a reference to one of the main rules of improv,” Hopkirk said. “The two main rules are ‘Don’t be afraid to f— up’ and ‘Yes, and.’ It’s all about accepting what your partner gives you in a scene and building upon it.”
In her eyes, the documentary is also supposed to about what it means to be the “perfect Notre Dame student.”
“No matter what you see from the outside, pretty much no one at this school actually feels like the supposed ‘Notre Dame student’ that we all assume everyone else to be,” she said.
Junior Jacob Neisewander said the club teaches its members to accept whatever challenge comes their way without letting the fear of failure hinder them.
(Editor’s Note: Neisewander is a Scene Writer for The Observer)
“We just kind of roll with whatever the crowd wants to throw at us,” Neisewander said. “The audience will give us a prompt to start the scene. So if I asked, ‘What’s something I can fit in the palm of my hand?’ and you say, ‘a marble,’ then a marble somehow has to factor into the scene that we do.”
Teamwork is essential to make the scene work, Hopkirk said.
“It’s all about accepting what your partner says and building upon it, and realizing that there are no bad choices you can make, you just need to make a choice,” she said.
Neisewander said appearing confident on stage relies on the improvisers working together.
“Every single scene is done with the help of other improvisers,” he said. “They can help catch you when you slip up, and you can help them when they trip up as well.”
Freshman Isabella Garcia said she has grown close to her teammates since joining Humor Artists.
“I have loved every second of being on the team,” she said. “The improv is great, but spending time with that group of weird obnoxious people is really awesome.”
The club also serves as a stress reliever for many of the members, senior and co-president Ryan O’Callaghan said.
“I love practice, especially because everyone here [at Notre Dame] is stressed,” he said. “It’s nice to know you have four hours a week that is set aside where you walk in and you’re pretty much not going to be thinking about homework.”
He also said in addition to making friends through Humor Artists, the group is devoted to honing their craft.
“Officers and senior members have really made an effort to kind of grow in the form,” O’Callaghan said. “We’ve been reading books on it and whatnot, because although improv is thinking on your feet and creating a show out of nothing, there are still certain principles and rules that govern scenes and should govern your actions and motivations that we have been trying to instill in all the members.”
Garcia said she found the team’s leadership a major source of encouragement.
“The upperclassmen have become really big mentors to everyone on the team,” Garcia said. “And I think that they’re not only great friends and great people — they really let you grow in your skill, grow your jokes and they support you through the process in a way that is so holistic.”
These close-knit relationships and are what Hopkirk said she tried to capture in her documentary.
“I basically interviewed a bunch of people in the club and I talked to them about why they like improv and why they like the Humor Artists,” she said. “Pretty much everyone said something along the lines of the fact that they felt that this club was their place on campus where they felt like they could be their true self.”
Hopkirk said after interviewing her peers, she decided she needed to turn the camera back on herself.
“I decided that I wasn’t really going to be getting anywhere if I just put a camera in other people’s faces and asked them questions, because that’s kind of asking them to do all the work,” she said. “I kind of interviewed myself in a way, in front of the dome, and I talked about everything that I was insecure about publicly at the most iconic spot on our campus.”
Hopkirk’s documentary can be viewed on Youtube, and the Humor Artists can be found on Instagram at @thehumorartists or Facebook at @TheHumorArtistsofND. The group performs once a month at Legends.