They spend each week providing comedic relief for students and the surrounding community, motivated by a passion for courage and comedy.
To the Stage Monkeys, a Southern Miss improvisation comedy group, humor is an escape from life’s stressors, and members believe in its potential to change a person’s day – including their own.
“We love to make people laugh, and it’s 100 percent free,” said Stage Monkeys president Logan Halliburton. “We are under the flag of the cult of the Stage Monkeys, which is now coast to coast.”
The organization celebrated its 15th anniversary last summer.
“USM was actually given the Stage Monkey menarche by someone from the cult of the Stage Monkeys,” said John McGuire, a 27-year-old former graduate of USM and current member of Stage Monkeys. “We existed before that under a different name that I don’t remember. Some cult of Stage Monkeys came here, saw the group perform and gave us the Stage Monkeys name.”
The organization performs short- form improvisation in which they spontaneously act out games and gimmicks. Halliburton said the group practices the format of games beforehand but never performs a game the same way twice.
“It takes a very specific kind of person, I think,” McGuire said. “That’s not saying we have this tremendous amount of courage. I just think that we have these weird brains that will allow us to throw ourselves out there in front of people hoping to make them laugh. But really, we’re just like making fools of ourselves for our own enjoyment.”
While nothing is concrete and wrong from right is undeterminable in improvisational comedy, members of Stage Monkeys offer support when someone is having difficulties continuing the performance.
“One of the things that improv teaches you to do – and that’s why it’s a useful life-skill – is if you ever see someone failing, you need to make their failure make sense,” McGuire said. “You make their failure funny without making fun of them.”
Whether it be to meet new people, have fun or achieve a personal goal, each Stage Monkeys member had a reason for attending tryouts.
“I’ve done improv for a long portion of my life,” Halliburton said. “I have met people from all walks of life with all kinds of careers, and they all get together to fly one flag under improv, and it’s fantastic.”
Not used to performance art, McGuire said he joined Stage Monkeys in hopes of gaining life experience.
“Glen Payne said improv is a lot like nerdy skydiving, because when you do it, it changes your life forever,” McGuire said. “You gain this skillset to be able to do this thing that terrifies most people. It becomes this rush that you can get any time that crosses over into your regular life, and you’re more likely to take risks and speak your mind and be good with people.”
This year the Stage Monkeys plan to advertise their new location in Wilbur Stout Hall on USM’s campus, having previously performed in Joseph Greene Hall. Attendance has decreased since relocating. Members estimate a minimum of 20 people frequent shows.
The Stage Monkeys next show will be Oct. 13, and a Halloween show will follow on Nov. 3.