We know that rest, plenty of fluids and a marathon on Netflix is the cure for feeling icky. Just kicking back and taking a few moments for you amidst the hectic life of a college student is necessary. Between exams, projects, essays and more, we get bogged down with stress and anxiety. Plenty of people say “laughter is the best medicine,” and we nod and then continue on with our busy lifestyles. But laughter can actually be helpful, and lucky for the University, we have ComCo. ComCo is the premier improv comedy group on campus that has been present since 1979, providing students with a chance to step back from their academics to enjoy a hilarious show. I talked with John Dennehy and Daniel Markowitz, two members of ComCo, to see what they had to say about their group and their presence on campus.

Sara Shamaskin

Both seniors, Dennehy and Markowitz joined ComCo as freshmen. Dennehy, a business major, sought out ComCo before coming to campus. Markowitz, a Philosophy, Politics and Economics major, found ComCo via Maize Pages the day of auditions. But in the end, both were accepted and have since improved their comedic skills. And after four years, the influence on their lives has been profound. Dennehy said, “… it’s a nice way to blow off steam from stress of class and everything … You have your friends which are, often, a lot like you. But then when you join groups, especially a small-knit group like ComCo, where you’re in it for four years, you really get to know people that you probably would never have met if you hadn’t joined the group.” This is such a vital part of a ComCo player’s college experience, that without it, the feeling “builds up,” as Markowitz said. “This weirdness that just needs to get out. And practice is such an open zone and allows everything to get out.”

The improvised form of entertainment allows for the audience to get involved, not just sit and watch. During a show, players ask the audience for various nouns, locations and adjectives. By participating, the audience feels a greater connection by contributing their own ideas, and they step back from their own lives to become part of the show. Markowitz said he can tell that, “They love getting into it with us.” With the buzzing crowd packed into an Angell Hall auditorium, Dennehy and the other ComCo players can feel it as well. “It’s symbiotic because we feed off the audience’s energy, they feed off ours. We have a very tight relationship with our audience.” But the benefits don’t stop there. Not only is a fantastic show produced, but there are even health benefits.

According to a 2010 paper published by Simon Lei and colleagues in the Journal of Instructional Psychology titled “Humor on Learning in the College Classroom,” there are several health benefits to just simply laughing. The diaphragm massages the right side of the heart, which releases endorphins, and the cerebral cortex is stimulated. Laughing also enhances self-image and self-confidence, and alleviates anxiety and depression. With all of these benefits, it is no wonder the phrase “laughter is the best medicine” is so popular.

We need a chance to laugh. As students, we push ourselves to our mental, physical and emotional capacities while at a competitive university. We have to take a few seconds to forget about the grades that we feel define us and the workload ahead. From a ComCo player’s standpoint, you can’t take life too seriously. Dennehy can see that there is more to this college experience than solely sitting in a library. “Be present, listen to what others are saying … thinking that school is school and everything is what it is … there’s no fun in that. At some point you have to enjoy your life.” It’s a chance to salvage some of your own mental health, to recover from whatever stressors are present in your life. These toxins accumulate, only hurting you further down the road. But if you take one evening every month to sit in an auditorium and laugh until you cry, you will not only leave that room with aching abs, but also with a refreshed feeling. The feeling that you took some time for you, not for your professors or your friends, not for your exam or that CTools assignment, will be so restorative to your life and your mental and physical health.

Sara Shamaskin can be reached at scsham@umich.edu.

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