Humor has been part of sophomore Theo Merrill’s education and world ever since he enrolled in a performing arts charter school; however, he didn’t know just what he was getting himself into. But once he got there, he stayed there, and now, along with his studies in political science and journalism, Theo can be found anywhere on campus making people laugh. For more of Theo’s stories and musings on his great-grandfather’s date with Amelia Earhart, the current state of our country, and just how funny CC really is, catch him performing in the next sketch comedy show 3rd Tuesday, or with TWIT on 4th Monday.
The Catalyst: How did you find your way into acting, and why have you stayed there?
Theo Merrill: I wasn’t really into acting, but my best friends from elementary school were going to a performing arts charter public school, so I decided these are the people I know, so I’m going to go there. I went there and originally wanted to do tech stuff but I realized I didn’t enjoy that, and I really liked making people laugh even though I wasn’t very good at it at first, so it was kind of a slow transition of “well, I’m here so I have to do something so I might as well be doing this,” and over time there was eventually a point where I was like “oh shit, I’m a theater person now,” who I never wanted to be, but now I am! I came to CC kind of wondering if I’m going to keep going to do theater, but I kind of missed comedy and stuff and telling people stories and so a friend told me to audition for a play last semester, and so I did, and from there I decided to keep doing theater and keep focusing on that: comedy in particular.
TC: If you could play any role in any production, what would it be?
TM: It’s funny because for someone who likes theater, I don’t know that many plays… there’s a play called “A Thousand Clowns,” and that’s one I’ve always really enjoyed. The main character’s name is Murray and he’s kind of a dead-beat former children’s show writer. It’s a kind of funny and wacky but still grounded comedy that I’ve always been kind of interested in.
TC: Describe your middle school self’s ideal first date.
TM: Oh, shit. Middle school Theo was a disaster. Like I’m talking the braces, the ponytail, the smudged glasses disaster. So, I’m not sure how much I want to place myself back in that role, but it probably would involve videogames. I’d always wanted to go to the restaurant Medieval Times as a teenager, so it probably would have involved going to Medieval Times, but I was a picky eater, so trying to order a grilled cheese sandwich there. That’s probably the likeliest one. Not really, but I’ll take it.
TC: For you, what makes someone easy to improvise with?
TM: It’s probably if they work together. It’s like a collaborative thing where you really have to have someone you can trust and who is willing to put forward their own ideas but is going to go with the flow, and just work together. I think that’s something that I work on, because I have background in scripted comedy, I am sometimes more, “I have an idea and I want to use this idea.” In general I think the best improv-ers are the ones that come in with ideas that they can use but are willing to always find their feet wherever the scene goes and figure out “what am I doing now, where is this scene going?”
TC: As a potential journalism minor, what is the time and place to integrate humor and reporting?
TM: I think humor connects people to things; obviously there are stories where you should not use humor. It’s funny because humor is kind of a selfish thing, and a lot of times the role of the reporter is to be the teller and separate themselves, but in terms of relaying the funny thing that happened in the situation or finding the interesting people there and making sure that their humor comes through is important because it connects people to things, and I think humor and stories help people feel place and connection. If you have a story about something that’s happened to someone and you show their good humor and they can joke about themselves and tell jokes, I think people like them more and feel more connected. So really just developing that situation, that place, that event can be a really valuable tool.
TC: What are the biggest challenges that come with doing both improv and sketch comedy?
TM: In sketch comedy there’s very much this—I mean these are just the basic differences—in sketch and improve—but you know what’s going to happen and knowing where you and your partner are both building towards. In a great improv scene, you both figure that out and figure out you’re building towards this climax, but sometimes you might be going in completely different directions and not really figure that out ‘til later on. Whereas sketch—in good sketch—you’ve written it together, you’ve rehearsed it together and you understand where it’s going and how things work together—just in terms of rehearsals, you get that down with people in specific scenes.
I think that sketch is easier to make funny because you have the opportunity to rehearse and revise and all that, but in improv you can get bigger laughs because of the excitement and so forth.
TC: On a scale from 1-10, how funny is CC’s campus?
TM: I think I’d say like a seven. I think CC is a funny campus and has some really funny people on it. There’s this funny thing in the outdoor community where there are a lot of people who love humor, and some of them just aren’t great at it all the time. Like I think there are a lot of really funny people in the outdoor community and outside of it, but I think there is kind of this thing though, like make fun of everything, but make fun of my last skiing trip and it’s someone else besides me, it’s like “woah, back off dude.” I think part of it is that CC likes to remove itself from popular culture in a way—and culture in general—which has a culture. It likes to reject its culture in some ways, which makes it hard to find a strand of humor surrounding satire. That’s how I’ll sum it up. I think CC’s weakness is “self-satiring” themselves, and that’s why I wouldn’t give it an eight or a nine.
TC: In your opinion, what has been the most influential event in the past year?
TM: I think the most influential event would be the general trend—and it feels so trite to say Trump’s election—of populism and these really surprising things around the world. Between like Brexit and Trump’s election and a lot of stuff like that, for a lot of people going into college—especially their second year of college, because that’s when people start going into teenage/young adult “I know everything” phase—and this has really been a kick in the ass for a lot of people. Like shit, I don’t know everything—including myself—because everyone’s like “none of this is going to happen,” and it did. Some people are taking a lot more pragmatic views of the world—“Trump did what was necessary to win, that’s what Democrats have to deal with and we have to lose the idealism,” and “now is the time to not negotiate or compromise on any values and we can’t lose idealism,” and all of that. So I think all of those events have consequences in every industry or group, of our age especially in terms of finding our way in the world and figuring out how to relate to it; and the way we relate to it from when we were 11 or 12 when Obama got elected, to now has completely changed… basically everything we learned between then and 2016.
TC: Invite 3 people to your pizza party.
TM: Amelia Earhart, because a., she seems like a baller, and b., my great-grandfather dated her for a summer, and I think that would be a crazy conversation, just like “what was Granddad Ken like, Amelia, or Ms. Earhart, or whatever.” You know, hear what happened to her, like where she crashed—or did she crash?—or what happened? Is she off hanging with Elvis? Or I could also be like “How was Granddad Ken, was he a fuckboy? Was he a good guy?” To balance that out, someone with a lot of stories would be nice… There was a guy I met through a friend of a friend’s grandmother in Wyoming a while ago named Jack Davis, who was this mule man who had these insane stories like he would steal something every time he drove through Salt Lake City because someone once stole something from him there because he wanted to get back at them, and so he died later because he was super old, but I think he’d be good. I’d want to hear more stuff from him. Ok, third person, I’m, going to go with like some random person, like pick someone off the street in Rome or something. Just would be fun to have a pizza party with some random Roman person. Just see how they act, how they socialize, all that.
Do they speak English?
I would hope so. Some random citizen from Rome…that would be wild.
TC: What do you want to be when you grow up?
TM: Ideally, I’d like to work in some kind of communications thing for politicians. I think a lot of really good ideas get kind of muddled down because people have a hard time communicating them. We saw that with the first stages of Obamacare, you see that with a lot of climate change stuff, and I think that I could do a good job—or I hope I could do a good job—of communicating those issues to people: helping people see why they matter and why they’re important. So ideally I would be doing that in Washington for campaigns or politicians until I get burnt out on Washington and go back home and run a bar or something, kind of low-key fun.