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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
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Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
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Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
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Comedian overcomes hesitation, draws on experiences

Isabel Miller ’11 always wanted to be funny, she just wasn’t sure that she was. Fortunately for the Grinnell community, she got a boost of confidence from ex-boyfriend Charles Frantz ’11. Frantz might be considered an expert in the field as a member of Ritalin Test Squad (RTS), the campus improv troupe.

“He told me I was funny like once or twice, and I was like, ‘great, taking that to the bank,’” Miller said.
Even a breakup with the source of her inspiration didn’t stop her. She auditioned for RTS in her second year, shortly after parting ways with Frantz. In spite of the awkwardness between them, Miller aced her audition and became a member of the troupe.

Any uneasiness between the former love birds has long since dissipated, and they only have nice things to say about each other now as senior members of RTS. Miller says that she and Frantz are each other’s biggest cheerleaders.

“He’s consistently the most supportive person, and I try to be that for him because we started out as two awkward first-years and now we’re seniors and both trying to actually do [comedy] in real life,” she said.

Like Frantz, Miller also does standup comedy. For her routines, she draws a lot from her own experiences. “The only material I have is the atrocious things that my family did or ridiculous nonsense that I observed in the world,” Miller said.

She often describes events that really upset her but are objectively funny, such as unfortunate family interactions.
“In that way it’s almost therapeutic, because if I tell a bunch of people I don’t know something that really upset me at some point or fairly horrific then it makes it into something I can handle,” Miller said. “And that’s why I talk about myself—it’s really selfish. It’s like, all of you have come here to be my therapist.”

As she has continued to perform, Miller has gained confidence in her abilities and it shows on stage. Frantz said she used to be very fidgety and would constantly move around on stage. Another member of RTS, Dodge Greenley ’11 remembered a less-confident Miller than students see today. “For a while she would tell me afterwards, ‘Was that horrible? That was horrible.’ And we’d tell her no, that that was a normal practice,” he said.

Miller herself admits that at first, she was her own worst enemy. But now she commands the stage. She thinks her time in RTS has taught her to stand by her actions in comedy.

“It was like slowly acclimating to just being a jerk in front of people for an extended period of time. I mean, you stand up there and basically are operating on this philosophy that you’re just going to do something weird and everyone else just has to go with it,” she said.“You can’t take it back, and you shouldn’t. You should just do what you did and stand by it. And that’s the hardest thing to learn.”

The increase in Miller’s on-stage confidence is now a marker of her success as a comedian—she’s learned not to restrain herself. “When she’s called upon to say something, she’ll just unhesitatingly say something ridiculous and it really works, which shows you how deeply funny she is,” Frantz said.

Another skill is her immense vocabulary, something that allows her to be far more precise in her comedic communications than the average comic.

“She has an incredible control of words—it’s one thing to think of an idea but another to use your words to communicate a character, a situation, and she has a humungous vocabulary that she ties into her characters so well,” Greenley said.

He also appreciates the way Miller incorporates the Grinnell intellectual experience into her comedy. “She often will make slight allusions to a philosophical theory or a contemporary movement that her character might have no clue about … and she really ties it into Grinnell and what people are studying and what people are excited about,” he said.

He mentioned her rendering of postmodernism as a dinner guest during an RTS show earlier this semester. In this performance, she spouted off Grinnellian inside jokes, such as emphasizing social constructs. More recently, Miller portrayed Moby Dick at the tail-end of the 24-hour improv show last weekend.

Miller says that her background in comedy translates well to her everyday life—the “do it and stand by it” philosophy particularly applies as she moves toward graduation.

“I’m about to graduate and I have spent hours and years ruminating about what’s going to happen next, and essentially I’m just going to do it and decide that whatever it is, it’s going to be great,” she said.

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