Building an Army

Comedy Wars’ newest and oldest members keep the laughs coming  

The buzzing crowd of Bengal Lair quiets as seven student performers take the stage. Armed with sharp tongues and biting wit, the warriors begin battle; Comedy Wars has commenced. While the crowd gathered around the arena includes more than 100 students, the beginnings of the comedy troupe were far more humble.

The Mizzou improvisational troupe began as a Missouri Students Association proposition to provide more performance outlets for the student body. Twelve years ago, Nick Vatterott stepped onto the Applause Coffeehouse stage in Memorial Union to perform with the newly created Comedy Wars. Vatterott worked closely with group founder Todd Geritz, who based the idea off of Kansas City’s ensemble, ComedySportz.

“We didn’t really know what we were doing,” Vatterott said of the group’s formation. “The fun thing about Comedy Wars is that it was always changing. Each year was a different year.”

Nick Vatterott entertains at Chicago Underground Comedy at The Beat Kitchen in Chicago. Vatterott's standup debut was at Columbia's Déjà Vu Comedy Club during a contest set up like the television show "Survivor." (Photo by Fuzzy Gerdes)

Over the next three years, Comedy Wars garnered a steady following and regularly suited up for a group of 20 students in the small coffeehouse venue. For Vatterott, being a part of the improv team was a defining part of his college career.

“Going to college is all about figuring out what you want to do with your life and the university supplying the tools for you to do that,” Vatterott said. “I didn’t graduate from Mizzou, but I do attribute it as helping me find what my passion was.”

Nick Vatterott advertises for his alternative standup show "No Outlet." Vatterott was named the "funniest man in Chicago" according to Chicago Magazine. (Photo by Lyndsay Hailey)

Vatterott soon began performing standup at Columbia’s Déjà Vu Comedy Club.  After leaving the university, Vatterott journeyed to Chicago to take performance classes and, after several years, was hired on by comedy theater Second City. Since then, Vatterott has toured the country, appearing on shows such as “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” and has found a sense of community within the comedy industry.

“I work with some of the greatest comedians out there,” Vatterott said. “It’s a pretty fun thing to come from all that.”

Vatterott is currently working on a sketch comedy show called “Mash Up” and a half-hour standup special with television network Comedy Central, both due out this summer. While he is filming in Los Angeles, two new members of Comedy Wars are just beginning of their college comedy career. Freshmen Clint Cannon and Drew Kohler auditioned for the team in the fall and were recently initiated to the stage.

Drew Kohler, left, and Clint Cannon rehearse a game called "Freeze." A member off stage calls "Freeze" to immobilize the performers, takes a player's place and improvises a new scene from that position.

“They don’t mess aroundwhen they choose their people,” Kohler said of the six-month audition process. “There’s definitely some legacy and some decent talent that comes out of Comedy Wars, so it’s an honor to be a part of it.”

The two were notified that they had been accepted to the team when they were asked to perform during a show in early March. In addition to the rush of being on stage and entertaining an audience of their peers, Cannon and Kohler also enjoy the community Comedy Wars provides within the university.

Clint Cannon practices his French accent during a performance game called "Slide Show." Cannon was encouraged to audition by college friends who had heard of the improv troupe.

“The group that we perform with is one of my closer groups of friends on campus,” Cannon said. “And definitely the audience aspect is really awesome. Seeing the people that you see come every week, it feels awesome. That’s what comedy is, it’s about the audience.”

Like Vaterott, the Cannon and Kohler see being a part of Comedy Wars beyond the scope of a college comedy career.

“It’s an art. You have do go out there and perform and do good at it,” Kohler said. “And so people recognizing that I’m putting forth an effort to make some smiles on some faces is nice; it’s fun.”

Drew Kohler gives advice about dealing with classroom tension during a game called "Good, Bad, Worse." Kohler joined his high school's improv group during sophomore year and graduated as vice president of the team.

Cannon and Kohler plan to continue participating as Comedy Wars team members until they graduate. Beyond that, the two believe the lessons they have learned throughout their experiences have given them a better sense of appreciation for the performance art.

“It’s going to be around for the rest of my life,” Cannon said.

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