The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The Tinfoil Hat Committee: Still laughing

As one of Iowa City’s largest student improv groups continues to grow, The Tinfoil Hat Committee shares how their group continues to reinvent itself.
Photo+contributed+by+the+Tinfoil+Hat+Committee
Photo contributed by the Tinfoil Hat Committee

Iowa City has fostered a burgeoning comedy scene for several years, but the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to damper community excitement in comedy.

Since comedy performances have resumed, however, the newly renamed student improv group the Tinfoil Hat Committee has been working to find its footing.

Previously performing as the Great White Narcs, the Tinfoil Hat Committee has been back at work practicing its signature improv sets with recruitment growing each year.

“It started slow,” former team captain Logan Pratt said. “Iowa City improv groups used to get hundreds of auditions,
pre-pandemic.”

Even though the Tinfoil Hat Committee emerged from the pandemic with a mere two participants, Logan and his co-captain Ian Zwaschka worked in tandem with the rest of the comedy scene to get the group back up and running.

“I used to do stand-up in Iowa City too,” Pratt said,

He joked that he “didn’t realize” it was a very competitive scene in Iowa City, even though you usually wouldn’t consider the college town to be an improv comedy capital.

Pratt joined the team only a month before performances were shut down in February 2020. When the team returned later, he was made de facto captain.

“Going from one month of experience to being the captain was a pretty wild experience,” Pratt said with a chuckle.

It proved to be a formative time for the team when potential new members started auditioning and practicing became regular.

“We picked up Jasper who’s still on the team now and kind of slowly grew from there,” Pratt said.

Jasper Rood has been captain of the Tinfoil Hat Committee for two years, joined this year by his co-captain Kaley Grimm. Under their lead, the team has found new members and rebranded from the Great White Narcs to the Tinfoil Hat Committee.

“A lot of teams are still feeling the effects [of the pandemic] and finding their footing,” Rood said. “Our team manages to find that balance every year.”

Since the group’s founding in 2013, it has continued to hone its unique brand of improv. Its performances are typically either long-form, drawing one improvisational idea out for a long scenario, or short-form. The team performed as the Great White Narcs in April 2023 at the Floodwater Comedy Festival, which returned to Iowa City for the first time in two years after repeated cancellations because of COVID-19.

Typically, members of the group aren’t experienced in performing at venues. Pratt, Rood, and Grimm make sure everyone on the team is comfortable with not only performing but also with
each other.

“A lot of our job as captains is outreach and booking, but we also lead practices too,” Grimm said. Creating a friendly space where everyone feels comfortable is how the Tinfoil Hat Committee creates its distinctive comedic style.

For a lot of student comedians, the experience could come from the university-affiliated improv club, which just so happens to be run by Rood as well.

“Improv club allows people who aren’t going into theater to dip their toes in improv,” Grimm explained.

The club acts as a perfect steppingstone for students interested in getting into performance. Ensuring members are comfortable within the group itself is integral to the group as well; it all starts with weekly practice.

“First we just check in and see how everyone is doing, but then we mostly play theater games. Then we practice long-form improv,” Rood described.

Being comfortable performing is more prescient now than ever as social media changes the landscape of comedy.

“Social media is so difficult. You want to go do improv, that’s what you sign up for,” Grimm said. “But now you need to know how every app works and how to be a content creator.”

Consistent promotion has become key for comedians in the digital age, and it’s something the team works on their own accounts.

“So many clips are on TikTok and Snapchat now,” Rood added, and with the increase of accessibility for comedy online, comedians have faced virtual heckling. But that prospect isn’t something the Tinfoil Hat Committee is worried about.

The team doesn’t feel pressure to avoid any topics due to their abidance to ethical comedy, a form of humor that Pratt picked up on during his time at the University of Iowa.

“Ethical comedy is all about punching up rather than punching down,” Pratt said, adding that, “Jokes that punch down or just sort of berate marginalized groups won’t resonate in a college town.”

Iowa City’s comedy community seems to share this sentiment, as — like the Tinfoil Hat Committee — comedians are supportive of each other and just want to perform. The group has steadily grown since the difficult recovery from the pandemic, but the future of improv in Iowa City is bright.

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About the Contributor
Charlie Hickman, Arts Reporter
he/him/his
Charlie Hickman is a sophomore at the University of Iowa. He is majoring in English on the Pre-Law track with minors in Political Science and Cinema.