It’s March, before the new coronavirus pandemic hit New Jersey. Laughter is heard throughout Life Hall at Montclair State University on a Saturday morning. Jokes are thrown around left and right, from the few that actually show up on time. The room smells of egg and sweetened coffee from the breakfast they got at Dunkin’ Donuts.
A few more students roll in and there’s even some dancing involved. The last student shows up; he is about 5 minutes late and locked out. The only way they’re letting him in the classroom is if he climbs through the window.
This is an average Saturday rehearsal for the Dirty 9.
The Dirty 9 is an improv, sketch comedy group produced by students for students. Dirty 9, otherwise known as D9, creates all of their own original content.
Whether it’s poking fun at Montclair State or something more people can relate to, watching them reminds audience members of that one embarrassing moment they had in middle school that everyone remembers. It’s all here as far as comedic content goes.
Jim Ligon, the founder of D9, wanted the group to be a place where actors can get training. His ultimate vision for the group is based on the Late-Night show.
“I wanted there to be a place on this campus where people can gather and celebrate and find relief; comic relief is what that’s called,” Ligon said. “We’re the comic relief.”
During the audition process, which is held once every semester, Ligon observes 30 students through a series of improv and acting games such as “Fill in the Joke.”
“I’m looking for people who will form an ensemble of players who have a sensitivity to each other,” Ligon said. “Some folks are good at narrative, verbal diarrhea and some folks are good at the physical stuff. So I look to create a blend.”
Micheal Banza, a junior theater studies major, recalled his experience with getting into D9.
“This is a pretty intense and intimate thing to get into,” Banza said. “I always felt like I was outnumbered in terms of people coming in here. They’ve had extensive training and I didn’t have that growing up. I just knew this was something that I love to do and I have some talent to work with. [D9] makes acting very welcoming.”
Joey Cooper and Joshua Cellar, sophomore musical theater majors, work solely on the acting and improv side of the group. They perform with D9 in campus events and more recently on the group’s high school tours. For the schools, they have a 30-minute show where the high school audience members get involved.
“It’s just a really cool way to branch out to the community and to get people to support D9, and to also get interested in Montclair [State] itself,” Cooper said.
Cooper and Cellar have both tried their hand in the writing section but, according to Cooper, they “massively bombed,” so they dropped it. However, the two raved about Bryan Rodriguez, a senior theater studies major, who is the go-to writer for the group.
“I struggle with regular writing, so I feel like I’ve really figured out something that I’m good at and I really want to hold onto that,” Rodriguez said. “I think I get little ideas that pop up in my head and I just throw them on paper and sort of just see where it goes. You don’t really know where it’s going to take you, but you just write with it.”
In times of need, such as when D9 needs to fill up more showtime with live sketches, Rodriguez is the member who writes the comedic content.
“I didn’t sleep and I just sat down with some coffee and I just typed away,” Rodriguez said. “I made seven sketches and I think out of those seven, five were picked definitely.”
Melanie Ruddock, a senior television and digital media major, commented on her experience working as a member of the production team for D9.
“They were all really passionate about what they were doing and their communication with us was great, which made the production side of things a lot easier,” Ruddock said.
The jokes, the laughter and the enthusiasm is all here with the Dirty 9. Their performances are a, “comic explosion,” if you will. They have jokes of all sorts for anyone to get out a roaring laugh, making them the people to watch at Montclair State.