Pitt student hosts original sketch comedy show ‘No Die to Time’


Amaya Lobato | Staff Photographer

Jack Johnson, a senior English writing major, at “No Die to Time” on Sunday in the Frick Fine Arts Building.

By Rebecca Hsu, Staff Writer

Laughter echoed throughout the Frick Fine Arts auditorium as audiences watched sketch comedy show “No Die to Time,” hosted by Jack Johnson. These sketches encompass a variety of topics, including Batman anxiously awaiting the NFL draft, an interviewer desperate to become the interviewee and a group of gossiping time travelers.

Johnson, a senior English writing major, hosted the show on Sunday in the Frick Fine Arts Building to an audience of about 30 people. The show is the focus of Johnson’s independent study under his English professor, Shannon Reed.

“It’s hard to describe exactly what the show is because sketch comedy can go any direction. And that’s also what I’m trying to do is every sketch is just a little bit different,” Johnson said.

All the sketches in the show were written by Johnson. The shortest lasted a couple seconds while some bits lasted several minutes. As the head comedy writer on Pitt Tonight, a late night comedy show, Johnson said he uses his experience to help guide the creation of “No Die to Time.”

The audience laughs during “No Die to Time” on Sunday in the Frick Fine Arts Building. (Amaya Lobato | Staff Photographer)

During rehearsals, the all-student cast read Johnson’s sketches. Once a sketch is read through, members chime in with feedback. This practice is something that Johnson is familiar with from Pitt Tonight. When it comes to “No Die to Time,” however, Johnson said the experience is slightly different.

“I feel so vain when I do a meeting like this because this is just like, ‘Hey guys, we’re going to read all my sketches.’ Normally [in a] Pitt Tonight writers meeting … we read a bunch of people’s sketches and we give feedback,” Johnson said.

“No Die to Time” conducted their rehearsals in a classroom, leaving the cast to decide the staging on the day of the show. Thomas Heibeck, a Pitt Tonight writer and performer in the show, said house shows for Pitt Tonight are carried out in a similar manner.

“It’s about a dozen sketches, and the rehearsal process for that always ends up being similar where we do these table reads and grind out the blocking and staging day-of. I feel like this group of people is relatively prepared for that just because we’ve done it a few times before,” Heibeck, a senior molecular biology and chemistry major, said.

Johnson said the show has come with other challenges for him, such as having to write for himself.

“I was like, ‘I don’t know how to write for myself because I’m not a character.’ And [Reed] was like, ‘Well, when you’re on stage, you are a character. You’re just a character of yourself. It’s different.’ So that’s how I’ve been trying to look at it,” Johnson said.

Justin Lisciandro, a senior history major, is a performer in the show and also a writer for Pitt Tonight. He said his experience working on the show has also differed from that of Pitt Tonight.

“Originally, the sketches all felt very much like Jack. But now we’ve all given feedback and notes and everything, I feel like it’s evolved into being full sketches that are fully fleshed out, written, and good,” Lisciandro said. “I think that’s been a difference that we’ve had to bring it to that point.”

Johnson added that he draws comedic inspiration from a variety of sources, often starting a sketch from just one joke.

“I would have just one punchline and then write everything around it. I have that for one of the opening ones where I have one person go, ‘Hello? 911? Yes, I’ll hold,’ and I thought that was really funny so I wrote a sketch around that,” Johnson said.

One of the most memorable bits of Sunday night’s show was a parody bit of “Chopped,” a competitive cooking show. The sketch featured a cast of recurring characters, an extensive use of props and a “La La Land” inspired choreographic sequence.

“I’ve been wanting to do a ‘Chopped’ parody ever since I was little,” Johnson said. “A lot of times I watch something so serious and I’m like, ‘This is so stupid’ and I want to parody it. Parody is like the first comedic outlet for me because it’s so easy to look at something and go, ‘Here’s how I can make that funny.’”

Johnson said he plans to continue writing sketch comedy in the future and he used “No Die to Time” to help further that goal.

“That’s what I want to do after this, I want to be writing sketch comedy,” Johnson said. “I want to say as a profession, that’s very hard to get into, but that is like my dream job. And so I wanted to do something that is actually contributing to that, actually going towards that and giving me some practice.”

According to Lisciandro, working with Pitt Tonight and on “No Die to Time” has improved his comedic skills.

“Just being around other people who are funny and other people who are trying to do comedy will make anyone better at it,” Lisciandro said. “So we all feed off of each other.”

Lisciandro and Heibeck agreed that working on the show gave them another opportunity to be on stage after performing in their last house show with Pitt Tonight two weeks ago.

“Especially as seniors, it was nice,” Heibeck said. “We finished [the house shows] up and it was bittersweet because that’s always been my favorite part of Pitt Tonight. So it was bittersweet to do the last one but it was nice to be like, ‘We’ll still get on stage one more time.’”

Johnson said the entire production was a team effort, drawing from the support of his friends, professor and the members of Pitt Tonight.

“I’m very grateful for all the help I’m getting,” Johnson said. “Again, it feels really weird to be like, ‘Hey this is my project,’ but I need other people. I could never do this whole thing by myself.”