UMN improv troupe “yes ands” their way to nationals

University of Minnesota student improv group Robot Family Band is headed to the national College Improv Tournament.

From left, Izzy Bobby, Carter Ridl, Jacob Mechler, Henry Kueppers and coach Summer Freed of MN long form improv team “Robot Family Band” laugh while posing for a portrait before their team practice on Wednesday, March 4. The team won the Upper Midwest Regional Championship for long form improv, and is now advancing to nationals.

Andy Kosier

From left, Izzy Bobby, Carter Ridl, Jacob Mechler, Henry Kueppers and coach Summer Freed of MN long form improv team “Robot Family Band” laugh while posing for a portrait before their team practice on Wednesday, March 4. The team won the Upper Midwest Regional Championship for long form improv, and is now advancing to nationals.

Alex Strangman

On Feb. 8, the funniest students from around the upper Midwest congregated at the HUGE Improv Theater in Minneapolis to compete in the Upper Midwest Regional of the College Improv Tournament. 

After all was said and done, Robot Family Band, one of four troupes formed from the University of Minnesota’s Long-Form Improv club, emerged victorious, securing a spot at this year’s national tournament in St. Louis.

Robot Family Band member and University junior Alex Church said expectations were low going into the regional tournament, making the taste of victory that much sweeter.

“We didn’t even expect to make it to the next round, let alone win the whole thing. So that was a really nice surprise,” he said.

The team, collaborating for the third year in a row, has transitioned from 12 members to six over the past few years. However, according to troupe member and University junior Jacob Mechler, the downsizing has been a blessing, leading to even stronger bonds within the group. 

“I feel like we’re at a point now where we definitely weren’t at when we started … we can just go out anywhere and do improv together. We’re just always comfortable and we’re a very connected troupe. It’s very fun to be a part of that,” Mechler said.

It takes more than just being comfortable with your troupe to be successful in competition. Church said a lot of preparation went into Robot Family Band’s piece for regionals. Teams are only given 20 minutes to perform. They also had to practice making the most of the stage space and on-stage relationships, two factors competition judges pay attention to.

Mechler said in addition to preparing for judge-specific requirements, they also had to nail down a specific form. They chose “houseboat,” a form that requires everyone to play a continuous character throughout the piece, all of whom coexist in the same improvised location.

Looking forward to the national tournament, the troupe has big shoes to fill. Last year, “Soul Brick,” an improv troupe from the University of Minnesota’s Long-Form Improv club made it to nationals and won second place.

Meredith Oechler, a junior at the University and member of the troupe, says one of the best parts about the tournament is just being able to perform for a new audience.

“It was so cool to perform in front of people from like North Dakota, South Dakota and all those great places … to make those people laugh, just as validation,” she said.

Similar to their approach at regionals, Robot Family Band says they don’t want to get ahead of themselves at nationals. While expectations are low, support for the group has been very high. The troupe started a GoFundMe to raise money for their trip to nationals, raising $650 of the desired $500 goal in just five days.

Before Robot Family Band heads to nationals, you can catch their performance at the Minnesota Long-Form Improv club’s monthly show.

What: MLFI March Improv Show

When: 7 p.m., Friday, March 6

Where: 10 Church St. SE, Minneapolis

Cost: $3 a person, $5 for two people

Editor’s note: Henry Kueppers is a videographer for the Minnesota Daily.