As the state’s only public four-year institution of higher education, the University of Wyoming offers exposure to a wide range of disciplines, from the hard sciences to the fine arts.
UW student Daniel Hancock takes advantage of the full gamut, balancing his astrophysics major with participation in UW’s improv troupe, This Just In.
“Having that improv outlet really let’s me balance it out,” he said. “There are times when I feel like I couldn’t go on if I didn’t have improv — like if I wasn’t part of the troupe or if I didn’t have a way to do that, then I feel like I’d lose the motivation.”
Originally from Texas, Daniel came to Laramie for UW’s astrophysics program, but began searching for an improv outlet as soon as he arrived.
“I was on the hunt,” he said.
Daniel started doing improv — the common term for improvisational comedy — in high school, becoming the captain of his high school’s improv troupe as he took professional classes to expand his skills.
He said he was drawn to improv by the unique demands improv places on its performers. Stepping out in front of an audience without a script, armed only with one’s wit and flexibility, is a surefire way to conquer any fears about public speaking, Daniel said, as well as a great way to meet kind, creative people.
“I’ve never met an improviser that’s mean or angry,” he said. “When you’re an improviser, you understand that you have to accept what’s given to you — the whole give-and-take thing. It’s really good when you get into a good group. You all become really good friends.”
Daniel came to UW with his sister, Madison. The siblings were born within a calendar year of each other and have always remained close.
“When we were younger, we always watched Monty Python all the time, and I think that’s where he gets a lot of his inspiration from,” said Madison, who often attends This Just In shows.
Not all improv is equal. Most people are probably more familiar with short-form improv — 2-5-minute games popularized by famous improvisers, such as the cast of “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?”
During the professional improv classes he has taken, and through practice with This Just In, Daniel said he favors the more intimate and sentimental long-form variety of improv, which focuses on scenes and character development.
“Long-form requires more patience and ability to work with your space a bit more, whereas, short-form is just kind of in the moment,” he said. “Long-form takes a little bit more time to develop, and I think (it’s) the more challenging of both the forms.”
This kind of improv allows the audience to unravel and discover the story alongside the performer, who similarly has no idea where the story will lead, Daniel said.
“The improviser is as on edge as the audience is — and that’s what really is interesting because doing that kind of improv just makes it to where it’s entirely relatable between the audience and performers,” he said. “You’re all experiencing the same thing at the same time. For me, feeling that and also just watching it, is so crazy.”
Daniel’s fellow This Just In cast members praised his ability to bring the book smarts behind his academic pursuits to the stage.
“His intelligence comes through just in his characters and his style of performance,” said Jeremy Rowley, one of the troupe’s longest-serving members. “It’s very thoughtful and intellectual, while at the same time being sort of wild and crazy. It’s a very interesting and compelling contrast.”
Rowley added Daniel’s openness to try new things helps the entire cast in a genre of comedy totally dependent on thinking on one’s toes.
“He’s willing to experiment, which is something that is surprisingly difficult to find, even in people that are performers by trade,” Rowley said. “His willingness and ability to try new things on a moment’s notice is inspiring.”
For Daniels, staying involved in improv is what makes his pursuit of a math-heavy degree — and maybe an eventual doctorate — possible.
“I have this crazy goal that I always tell people,” he said. “I want to get my doctorate in astrophysics, and then on the side also be a comedian or an improviser and eventually host (Saturday Night Live) or something like that … Even if I don’t get my major, or don’t get my PhD, I can always just fall back on comedy because I feel like that’s something I do well.”