By Daryl Paranada
Around 40 past and current members of the Emerson College sketch comedy troupe Jimmy’s Traveling All-Stars performed at the Lyric Hyperion Theatre & Cafe in Los Angeles during a special 20th anniversary show.
During the event, alumni and students revisited some of the troupe’s most memorable skits, including sketches about self-identifying twins, a baby who’s picked up on some of his mom’s TV watching habits, and wine tasting with a girl named Courtney (who has a very little mouth).
The night kicked off with a toast from members of the original troupe, including Steve Basilone ’03, writer and producer on The Goldbergs; James Kirkland ’03, author and actor; Dan Levy ’02, writer and producer on Indebted; and cinematographer Jason Liquori ’02.
“It’s heartwarming to see people still care about Jimmy’s and how it meant so much to them,” said Basilone.
“Not only was it hilarious [to watch the show], but it felt very similar to what we started in the fall of ’99,” added Levy.
When Jimmy’s launched in 2000, there were only a handful of comedy troupes at Emerson. The founding members of Jimmy’s sought to create a troupe to “do their own thing,” incorporating more video, sound, and other technical disciplines into sketches. At the reunion show, video and sound were on prominent display, including a sketch featuring a choir with an “off-key” member and another with a detective who utilizes unusual methods to solve a mystery.
“More than any play I got to be in or any class I took, that comedy troupe was my life,” said Lilliana Winkworth ’13, a comedian and writer who produced the anniversary show. “I’d always done comedy and I was cast in comedic roles all throughout high school, but I don’t think I landed on wanting to be a comedian until I fell in love with it through Jimmy’s.”
The idea for a reunion show started in the fall of 2019 when Winkworth moved to LA from Chicago, where she had spent two years performing with the improv comedy troupe The Second City. Without a job at the time, Winkworth connected with fellow Jimmy’s alumni in the LA area and realized that the troupe’s 20th anniversary was approaching. She reached out to alumna and then-Jimmy’s president, Samantha Yates ’20, about putting on a reunion show. The March 6 date was chosen to accommodate current Jimmy’s members, some of whom flew in from Boston during their spring break.
“It’s easy to write something like a comedy troupe off as just a college club, and, in many ways, it is at its core. But with Jimmy’s, it really does feel like so much more,” said Yates. “There’s something us Jimmy’s like to call ‘Jimmy’s Magic.’ It’s the energy that we feel when we are laughing and creating together. Every year during auditions, that’s what we look for in the people who come out — if they have that magic.”
To select the sketches performed at the show, Winkworth solicited submissions from Jimmy’s members, receiving more than 50 sketches. After reading over the submissions and watching sketches available online, a committee chose 17 to perform at the anniversary show. One of the sketches involved socially conscious rapper Slip Slippy. Marcos Gonzalez ’16, a writer on the Saved by the Bell revival, performed as the main character.
“I went from being a Journalism major who didn’t know how to write sketches to writing a lot of the shows by my senior year,” said Gonzalez, who credits Jimmy’s with helping kick off his career.
While performing with the troupe as Slip Slippy at a comedy show in Boston, Gonzalez landed an internship in LA at Funny or Die, which had representatives in the audience. That internship led to a job as character performer, a segment called “Very News w/ Jorge Ortiz,” which landed him a digital show on Comedy Central and eventually his gig in the writer’s room at Saved by the Bell.
“For me, Jimmy’s was my college family. It was my first group … that I really connected with, that stuck the most with me,” said Gonzalez. “It was one of the few things where everyone was super supportive of each other.”
Like Gonzalez, Joey Lyons ’19 didn’t get into the troupe his freshman year. Both Emersonians tried out again and were accepted as sophomores. Lyons, along with Yates and other more recent members of the troupe, helped cast the show with younger Jimmy’s alumni that Winkworth and others did not know. The performers in the show consisted of different generations of Jimmy’s.
“It’s really cool to meet older Jimmy’s who I’d seen in video sketches. I felt connected to them, and now we are really connected and becoming friends,” said Lyons, an assistant at Abso Lutely Productions who wants to write a comedy show one day. “When I was at Jimmy’s, the vibe we were shooting for was super positive and silly, and I think that is something I always carry with me. Things can be dark sometimes and it’s so easy to get cynical, but Jimmy’s showed me it can always be helpful to be super positive and lead with kindness.”
Performers in the show had just one day to rehearse together, though various groups in different sketches practiced on their own. Zach Honer ’21, current president of the comedy troupe, flew out for the occasion to perform in the show along with a few of his classmates.
“I spent the first few weeks of college being unsure about Emerson. I moved far away and didn’t know anyone. I was really missing a community,” said Honer. “Quickly after joining Jimmy’s, not only did they become that community, but they also became my best friends and made me confident in what I was doing in college. It really is the best thing.”