Deeping Diving into Improv with No Fun Mud Piranhas

By Emma McCormick

Ever wondered what it’d be like to watch a proclamation of divorce? Sure, it might be interesting, but what if the unhappy couple could only communicate through dance?

For seasoned improvisers, this scenario may seem typical. However, if you’ve never seen improv, such a scene might seem nonsensical, or just straight up stupid. In the spirit of bringing the insular world of improv to the greater Northwestern community, students Julianne Lang ( Communication ‘18), Chase Doggett (Communication ‘19), Laila Francis (Communication ‘19), and James Crisafulli (Weinberg ‘21) brought the famous No Fun Mud Piranhas back to campus.

Yes, that’s what I said: No Fun Mud Piranhas.

The No Fun Mud Piranhas have a murky history (pun intended). The group started on an unknown date as an open improv group for Northwestern students, but has disappeared and reappeared on campus throughout the years (Julianne says it was a huge thing three years ago before vanishing). It boasts alumni such as David Schwimmer and Steven Colbert, so it is pretty legitimate to say the least. Their practices are pretty much up to the upperclassmen who run it, but this year it has become quite structured, leading to the bizarrely funny and absurdly creative scenes mentioned above.

If you aren’t familiar with the improv community here at Northwestern, auditions for groups like Titanic, Mee-ow, ODB and The Bix are highly competitive. “Teams,” which is what groups of inducted members are called, can be as selective as to have only 9 people. This system filters out people who didn’t participate in improv in high school or who don’t make the cut due to sheer numbers, leaving them dejected. This cycle of rejection is perpetuated because there is a lack of ability on campus to practice improv if you are not in one of these exclusive groups. This is where NFMP steps in.

“Improv creates a really cool/tight community on campus, but I think sometimes that community can be pretty insular,” says Lang, a senior in Mee-ow who pioneered The Bix. “No Fun was another effort to expand that community.”

And expand it has. Through NFMP, theatre majors, random Econ kids, and other various groups intermingle in the hopes of bettering their skills in “say yes and listen,” which Julianna cites as the two pillars of improv. Upperclassmen from Titanic, Mee-ow, and ODB act as coaches to facilitate the learning of these improv skills; however, it is truly an active process.

Having participated in these rehearsals, I can say that two hours of practice fly by because they are truly fun, or No Fun, that is. On the second floor of Fisk, the three to four NFMP groups (each with two coaches) meet to play various improv games which evolve into scene creation. Each week, the coaches select a skill set to work on, like dialogue or character choice, playing different games depending upon that skill. While I am considered a full-fledged “member,” I am at liberty to come and go as I please. But truly any student is welcome at a given practice.

The inclusivity of the group stems from the desire of upperclassmen to see the joy of improv trickle down. Lang notes, “I know a handful of people who had never done improv on campus and getting involved really helped them break out of their shell and discover something new.” Breaking out of one’s shell is a key component of being a college student, but the applications of improv go beyond just that.

According to Lang, the pillars of “say yes and listen” are skills that “are literally applicable anywhere.” They are about learning how to create environments in which you are simultaneously “surrounded by people meant to support you who you are also supporting.”

Still, there remains a troubling element of the club: its name. There is nothing fishy about improv (or is there?), so why would the group refer to themselves as Piranhas? While Lang swears to me that no one knows where the name comes from, speculation has continued over the years. One of the best? A theory by Jake Daniels, a junior in Mee-ow and Titanic.

“When it started, there were two groups on campus called Mud Piranhas; one was an improv group and one was an econ study group. People confused the groups all the time, and one time, a member of the improv group was asked if they were going to the econ study group and they responded with No! Fun Mud Piranhas....and the name was born.”

The origin of the name is up for debate, but regardless, No Fun Mud Piranhas is making waves and washing away conventions (more ocean puns, my bad) on Northwestern’s improv scene.

Steven Norwalk