Gretchen Shull and Mark Kemp’s newly-established Comedy Club welcomes any and all


“I’ve been in love with comedy forever,” said senior Gretchen Shull. “It’s always been intriguing to me. And I realized I loved doing it, I loved being it, and I’m actually not that bad at it. I love being on stage. I feel like it’s when I can be my truest self.”

Born from unadulterated passion, Gretchen has solidified her relationship with comedy, with plans to pursue it in college. The foundation for this future was first paved during her junior year when she joined the improv team, of which she was co-captain this past year.

And while Gretchen has developed confidence and ability in her comedy and improv, her dive right into auditions junior year did not immediately reveal refined talent.

“I certainly was not good at improv before I started doing it,” Gretchen said. “It’s kind of a skill that you have to work at a little bit and maintain.”

Moreover, with the nature of the improv team’s summertime practice in preparation for their fall show, Gretchen found that even after her abilities were polished, they were often left unattended to during the rest of the year following the show.

“We do improv all throughout the summer, and we do it so often,” Gretchen said. “And then it feels like [in the] school year we’re just not doing anything, and then by the time audition season rolls around [at the end of the year], you feel a little rusty.”

It seemed that these issues were fairly common for those both interested or involved in improv. Co-captain of this year’s improv team and four-year member, senior Mark Kemp, also shared these observations.

Thus, the duo set out to procure a solution.

“I told Gretchen that we should make a comedy club,” Mark said. “And that’s all it took for us to make it.”

First and foremost, the idea of a comedy club of sorts was conceived for the sake of improv team veterans, so as to keep their comedy brains working throughout the year, but also for prospective improvers looking to gain experience before marching into the audition.

“Mark and I were both the co-captains of the improv team; we love improv so much, and we thought [that] people can’t really try out improv unless they’re on the improv team,” Gretchen said. “The only time somebody would get to goof around and just try out improv would be at improv tryouts. They try and keep [auditions] chill, but it’s a little scary– you know, you might be on the team, you might not. It’s an audition.”

Even just introducing students to the idea of joining the improv team was another attractive aspect of possibly starting a comedy-centric club.

“We wanted a way to introduce more people to improv in an attempt to get more people to audition for improv,” Mark said, “because it is such an amazing time.”

As discussions of an improv club arose, Gretchen and Mark realized that the potential of the club could be further broadened.

“We were going to maybe name it Improv Club, but then we thought it’d be a lot more interesting if we got to go into different facets of comedy,” Gretchen said. “So we just [decided on] Comedy Club.”

Gretchen and Mark quickly got to work signing the forms and securing an advisor– longtime RAT host and science teacher Jon Anderson– and were able to swiftly hold the first meeting just a few weeks ago.

“We decided we’d start out with improv because that’s what we know the most,” Gretchen said. “We’ve just basically been doing some improv games– real quick, real simple– talking about the basics of improv, what you want in a scene, what you don’t want in a scene, ways to improve a scene, and then once we’re done with that, we’re going to move on to some other stuff.”

It’s really interesting because the kids have a lot of potential, and that’s part of the reason Mark and I started this whole thing: somebody might have potential, they just haven’t really worked a lot on that.”

— Gretchen Shull

The lean-in towards improv certainly garnered interest from improv team members, like senior Maddie Vonk, immediately fulfilling one of the club’s intentions of aiding the improv team in year-round practicing.

Gretchen and Mark started it,” Maddie said, “and a lot of improv people were going, so I decided to go because I miss the team.”

However, Gretchen and Mark still have plans to expand from just improv.

We do a lot of improv, but we’re starting to branch out and do things like stand-up and sketch writing,” Gretchen said, “and I think we’re going to do impressions and a bunch of other different comedy aspects.”

With just a few meetings under their belt, Comedy Club is working to diversify and intensify for all types of students coming in.

“I hope that we are able to show people who haven’t experienced improv how much fun it is,” Mark said. “We plan on upping the frequency of the club and adding more facets to our schedule. For example, we want a day that we just study a section of standup and analyze its comedy style.”

So far, it has proved to be a positive, inclusive setting, allowing for the ideal environment for all those participating in the activities.

“Comedy Club is a really fun, judgment-free zone where you can pretty much just kind of try stuff and goof around,” Gretchen said.

While the club understandably consisted of many seasoned members, its decent attendance has afforded a varied spectrum of experience and ability.

“We had a pretty decent turnout,” Gretchen said. “A lot of people who come in think that it’s going to be all improv people, but there are some other kids who are not…we have kids who have been on the improv team, and we have kids who probably walk in and have never done improv before or only have done it at the audition. It’s really interesting because the kids have a lot of potential, and that’s part of the reason Mark and I started this whole thing; somebody might have potential, they just haven’t really worked a lot on that.”

Despite the contrasting levels of training, the fun, light atmosphere persists.

“We’re a really inclusive group,” Gretchen said. “So we don’t really care about if somebody’s a little less experienced or a little more experienced.”

Thus, as the year and club continue, Comedy Club welcomes all students of all levels and backgrounds in comedy.

“Don’t feel like [the club] is a big, scary thing,” Gretchen said. “It’s just a free thing for you to be able to get out there. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to come back. I think it’s just a really inclusive [group]– we don’t judge anybody. You can just come in there and just be silly for a bit.”