When a young woman dressed as reality TV fixture Kim Kardashian says she’s never worked harder in her life, she’s not kidding.
By the time opening night arrives for Humorology each April, UW–Madison students from campus Greek organizations have racked up more than one hundred and fifty hours rehearsing for the musical-comedy show. Now in its sixty-sixth year, Humorology is the largest student-run, nonprofit philanthropic organization in Wisconsin. It raised $20,000 for local and national charities last year.
Pop culture icons and characters from childhood stories and games frequently populate the stage during a half-dozen mini-musicals tied to a central, broad theme. Students write, direct, and choreograph the productions, in addition to building sets and making costumes. Fun fact: Humorology is where Steven Levitan ’84, co-creator of the award-winning TV series Modern Family, got his start in comedy. If the songs sound familiar, it’s because the students borrow melodies from pop singers, such as Katy Perry, and classic Broadway shows, such as A Chorus Line, to accompany original lyrics.
While many of the performers are not necessarily trained in acting, dancing, or singing, they compensate with raw enthusiasm. The “let’s put on a show” attitude is infectious, and even if a few jokes fall flat, the energy level on stage never lets up. The performers are matched beat for beat by the audience, which is filled with hollering fraternity brothers and sorority sisters rooting for their houses with homemade signs and T-shirts bearing Greek letters.
That rowdy atmosphere is fueled by Humorology also being a competition, which begins when groups audition during the fall semester for a spot on the final bill. A slew of awards are handed out on Humorology’s third and final night, with honors for the best and funniest shows and standout performers, including best villain.
Most of the students on stage are freshmen and sophomores, drawn by the desire to meet new people on a big campus. When the last bows have been taken, the actors, dancers, and singers emerge with strong friendships and an experience in the spotlight they’ll not soon forget.