Ants to Gods, Rochester’s premier all-Black long-form improv comedy trio, has a tendency toward and love of all things off-kilter.
“We all have this baseline weirdness in a very specific way. I don’t think we’re afraid of absurdity or plasticity or pushing thoughts or ideas. We all have a strong sense of silliness and curiosity,” says Eno Okung, who notes that the trio’s name is somewhat literal, as scenes they’ve done have taken them to act as both a bug and a god.
“I like poetry, I like words a lot and thinking about how few words it takes to tell a story. I think (Ants to Gods) is a very short story that has a lot of plot in it,” Okung continues. “There’s all these themes of transformation, changing from an ant to a god, that go along with performance.”
Okung, along with fellow Ants to Gods members Austin Scott and Elijah Crocker, will perform with that transformative, absurd energy tomorrow at the Focus Theater with a long-form improv show: “The Sacrifice.”
Unlike the short-form comedy improv associated with popular shows like “Whose Line is It Anyway?”, long-form spends more time developing characters and scenes. It’s a style that Scott, who is also a co-owner at the Focus Theater, says clicked with him as he searched for his ideal performance style while studying at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Coming from a non-arts high school experience, he felt a disconnect with the way scripted theater was structured at the college and instead found improv as a way to develop his comedic talents, gain performance time, and create something truly unique.
“For me it’s the thrill. It’s knowing that I have no idea what’s going to happen, and once it does happen, it’s never going to happen again. There’s a rush that happens,” says Scott, who served as president of the RIT Improv Club during his time there. “When I was first introduced to improv, it was presented to me as simultaneous creation and presentation. I find that really beautiful, really fun, and really thrill inducing.”
“The appeal for me is how it’s about creating a story together. Like, let’s find out what happens when we follow this semi-odd individual or what happens when we push this neutral person to a logical extreme,” Okung adds. “Long-form is such a sandbox.”
Scott has been doing improv for over a decade–Okung teasingly calls him “the Brain” of Ants to Gods. Austin brought Okung and Crocker, friends from high school and college, respectively, together.
“I had always known Austin as an improviser since he was so involved in college with it. I had done the first couple classes at Focus and felt so encouraged by that community and connecting with everyone, but still felt so new at everything,” says Okung, who finds improv valuable from a comedy-writing perspective.
Scott respectfully disagrees, saying their collective friendship helps supersede experience: “We’ve got a group mind. Eno and Elijah, it doesn’t matter how long they’ve been doing it, we’re all on the same level. They’re great on their own and we’re great together.”
The members want to continue performing in order to develop both their group improv skills and also the community at large. They see many opportunities in Rochester’s young but vibrant improv comedy scene, particularly for collaboration.
“There’s a huge amount of talented, funny people who, all they need is stage time,” says Scott, who views Focus as part of that solution by opening the stage to other performers. “I want to help push them to the next level.”
Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer. The Beacon welcomes comments from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name.