Comedy Troupe barred from all-school assemblies

Sahil Modi, Executive News Editor

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The 2016-2017 Comedy Troupe members perform a controversial act about the gender-neutral bathroom. This performance offended some, causing meetings about whether Comedy Troupe should perform at assemblies.
Photo by Richard Chu

Following a controversial performance on April 21, 2017, Comedy Troupe sponsor Lindsey Berman was shocked to hear the news just a month later that the group would not be permitted to perform during an all-school assembly until further notice.

“It’s horrible,” said Berman. “I think Comedy Troupe is something that the majority of the students love, and I think it makes people laugh. I think it is fun for the kids who are involved with it but also fun for the audience. It’s been around for so many years. … I was disappointed in [the decision to remove] it.”

Berman said she and her advisor Julie Ann Robinson, who serves as a mentor to Berman, each had a meeting with Michael Tarjan, assistant principal of student activities, and Principal John Finan to discuss a letter sent to Finan by a few teachers after the Pride Assembly last spring. A few weeks after the meetings, Tarjan, Finan and other members of the Administrative Leadership Team decided it was necessary to take a break from Comedy Troupe at all-school assemblies. They have not yet decided how long this break will last, but have decided that Comedy Troupe could return in an alternative venue aside from an all-school assembly. However, Comedy Troupe is no longer a club this year.

Teacher Sarah Ilie said she had a role in writing the letter addressed to Finan. A Torch request to see the letter was denied, but Ilie explained the main points that were made.

Ilie said the letter described the acts these teachers found offensive. The two acts addressed were “mimicking” the accents of the cafeteria workers and the depiction of the gender-neutral bathroom.

According to Robinson, Comedy Troupe impersonated students in the gender-neutral bathroom selling JUULpods.

“The Comedy Troupe was trying to paint [the gender-neutral bathroom] as a safe space that … anybody can use it, and that you’re not going to be judged for it,” said Robinson. “And of course, in the way that kids do, sometimes [students] exploit the purpose of something. … I think [Comedy Troupe] was trying to point that out.”

Ilie said the authors of letter felt there were other instances prior to the Pride Assembly in which  Comedy Troupe “missed the mark.” She believed “humor that targeted individuals was inappropriate” for a mandated assembly.

Some students voiced complaints to teachers after a remark made about the length of the LGBTQ acronym during the Pride Assembly.

Tarjan said he has received complaints from students, teachers and parents after almost every assembly Comedy Troupe has performed in for the last 12 years. The Pride Assembly performance contributed to the decision to bar the group from performing in an all-school assembly.

“We’re taking a break,” said Tarjan. “We’ve done this before where we’ve taken a break from Comedy Troupe. … Our administrative group has had a lot of conversations over the years about just the effect that Comedy Troupe has on the whole school.”

Tarjan said he usually reviews the skits before the assemblies, but was not able to before the Pride Assembly.

Berman said she watched the entire skit before it was performed at the assembly and was very proud of the students in Comedy Troupe.

“In terms of performances and theater, I always thought everything we did was fine,” said Berman. “[We were] always very careful to not offend individuals.”

Tarjan said he believes there is a place for satire comedy, but a mandatory assembly is not that place.

“There’s a fine line that you walk with satire, and when we put all of our students and staff into the gym, and we’re not really giving them a choice, … [the] line, when it’s crossed, can explode,” Tarjan said.

Robinson said she was  surprised at the backlash after the Pride Assembly since she has worked with the Comedy Troupe for 10 years. 

“I saw the material the night before [the Pride Assembly] with another teacher,” said Robinson. “She and I thought there was nothing in it that was mean spirited or antagonistic toward any group. But, the nature of comedy and performance is it’s in the eye of the beholder. Some audience members might find something offensive and others might not.”

Robinson said she would have liked to engage in dialogue with students and faculty who had problems with Comedy Troupe’s skit, since she and Berman permitted the members to perform the acts that they did.

“If you offend one kid, should you not perform? I do plays that offend one person, but if 95 percent of them are satisfied and really enjoy what we’re doing, sometimes I think the point of theater is to push that envelope.”

Berman said she was “saddened” at the response of members in the Glenbrook North community after the Pride Assembly.  

“The purpose is always entertainment,” said Berman. “That was my purpose. I never had any political agenda. We weren’t ever trying to make a statement.”

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