The Janice Improv Group performs their comedy routine at the Endgames Improv Training Center in the Mission district of San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, April 12, 2019. (CHRIS ROBLEDO/ Golden Gate Xpress)
As a six-woman improv group pretended to be spiders escaping a house, boisterous laughter erupted from the onlooking crowd.
JANICE is the first all-women’s improv comedy team and part of the Endgames Improv Training Center, an improv center that hosts weekly classes and events. Lead coach of the team and SF State alumna, Keara McCarthy, teamed up with EITC to create the 10-woman team in January. Together, the team performs “Total Regret Live” improv comedy shows every Friday at 8:30 p.m.
McCarthy graduated from the SF State theater department in 2009 and has been practicing improv comedy ever since.
She said she appreciates the freedom of improv and thinks that it gives comedians a chance to exceed the crowds expectations while performing.
“I think I sort of like that the pressure’s off because it’s not scripted,” McCarthy said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen and some people find that sort of terrifying and I find that very relieving.”
McCarthy describes that she appreciates JANICE’s all-women crew for being expressive and unafraid to play stereotypically masculine roles. McCarthy feels more comfortable practicing improv with her all-women team compared to with men.
“Sometimes it’s hard with playing men,” McCarthy said. “Don’t treat me any differently because I am a woman—I am just a person.”
SF State alumnae Marina Misculin and Nicole Lee are part of the team and feel as though the all-women atmosphere means they can play any role they would like with no creative limitations.
“When [women] are first getting started in improv, you do scenes where you are pigeon-holed as the mom, as the secretary or as the lesser character,” Misculin said. “To have a space where I am able to do improv with a bunch of women who give me the confidence, it empowers
me to do whatever I want.”
Lee said she decided to audition for JANICE to help her overcome her shyness. After taking one class, she fell in love and found improv therapeutic amid the stresses of her everyday life and professional job.
“I initially got into [improv] because it was a cool, fun thing, but I also find it’s a very cathartic thing,” she said.
Lee believes she has the potential to impact other women to participate in comedy.
“I think it’s really important to have an all-female group be part of the official house team… because, like a lot of parts of life, comedy is unfortunately very male-dominated,” Lee said. “I think having representation, having seen people like yourself on stage, makes you feel like you can do it.”
Every “Total Regret Live” show begins with a question to the audience: “What is your biggest regret?” The improv team then creates an improv comedy scene to illustrate the audience member’s regret.
On the April 12 show, JANICE interacted with audience member Tiffany Ou.
Ou said that her biggest regret was leaving a spider in her house while leaving for work. The audience erupted with laughter as JANICE acted out the scene.
“[JANICE] was great. They did a great job of asking questions that would help give them fodder for their show,” Ou said.
Although JANICE has a year-long contract with EITC, McCarthy hopes this is only the beginning for the team.
“I feel like it’s a long time coming,” McCarthy said. “I’m glad it happened and I think we got a really good team and I’m very proud of them … I want the women’s team to stick around as long as possible.”
An earlier version of this story quoted JANICE coach Keara McCarthy saying “sometimes it’s hard playing men,” when the correct quotation is “sometimes it’s hard playing with men.” Xpress regrets this error.