Provo • The Garrens Comedy Troupe isn't a household name. But in the 1990s, the group's Friday night shows featuring skits and songs about Utah County and Mormon culture were a must-see for those living in Provo and attending Brigham Young University.
Founded in 1993, Garrens was the first professional comedy troupe in Utah County. It was extremely popular during its eight-year run and helped pave the way for the comedy shows that exist in Provo today, including Divine Comedy and the local franchise of ComedySportz (where many Garrens alumni landed).
Fans can relive the Utah County humor on Saturday, Sept. 14, when the troupe holds a 20th-anniversary reunion show on the BYU campus. (See information box.)
Members are flying in from around the country for the event, said Eric Snider, who helped start the group when he was a BYU freshman. Snider, now a freelance critic and columnist, said for most alumni, The Garrens was life-changing.
"The Garrens was my very first experience being creative for an audience, and it directly laid a foundation for a career that has followed," said Daryn Tufts, who is producing the anniversary show and is now a filmmaker ("My Girlfriend's Boyfriend," "American Mormon"). "It helped me realize that I could make a living being creative, and maybe more importantly, I wanted to."
Tufts said even now people still approach him and say they remember him from The Garrens. "Whenever I speak with those people, we always marvel at what a special and unique show and era that was at BYU."'
Like Tufts, many Garrens have gone on to successful careers in the arts. Former Garrens include actors Lincoln Hoppe ("The Singles Ward," "The R.M.," "Saints and Soldiers," "Airborne Creed") and Lisa Valentine Clark ("Stalking Santa," "Pretty Darn Funny"), author Aaron Johnston ("Earth Afire" and "Earth Unaware," both with Orson Scott Card), writer/performer Jjana Valentiner ("Funeral Potatoes") and author and theater professor Marc E. Shaw.
Birth of Garrens • Snider said the group is named after Joyce Garren, the head resident the "dorm mom" at the Deseret Towers building where he lived.
"My buddy and I were trying to think of a name for the group, and Sister Garren was mentioned in passing, and I realized I liked the sound of her name," Snider said. "She was great too, and she became a big supporter of ours, but it was really just her name that I liked at first."
Joyce Garren, who has since died, became an unofficial cheerleader for the group, filming most of its shows and collecting memorabilia.
For Katie Craig, the group was important for a slightly different reason; it is where she met her husband, Kenneth Craig.
"I first saw him perform with the group at BYU Freshmen Orientation and the show absolutely made me want to audition," she said. "When I got into the group a month later, I found a unique blend of mentors, crazies, love interests and lifelong friends."
Craig said with twice-a-week rehearsals and performances every Friday night, the group became close.
The Garrens also offered a decidedly Utah County show.
"The Garrens had an impact on BYU because it was custom-made for the BYU experience," she said. "While many sketches had a broad appeal, student audience members also saw jokes and references onstage that only they would truly appreciate."
Since they met and married while in the group, the Craigs named their oldest son Garren, said Katie. "He's only 14, but has talked about starting a comedy troupe when he goes to BYU, and then it would be Garren's Comedy Troupe, with the apostrophe!"
At the time, The Garrens offered a new, intense, unifying experience, Lisa Clarke said.
"We started and performed at a time before YouTube, before web series, before independent sketch comedy shows. It was BYU, Mormony humor you couldn't get anywhere else, and it was every weekend," she said. "It was live sketch and improv comedy. It was something totally unique and exciting."
Clarke said the troupe gave her the confidence and experience she needed to write comedy sketches for other projects professionally. She started a different improv group and continued acting.
"It had a huge impact on my life in more ways than I thought," she said.
Divine Comedy founder Randy Davis said he came to BYU with a desire to start a comedy group. "When I saw The Garrens perform, I thought: 'Wow. I should try out.' Then I thought: 'I'll never make it in. I'd better start my own.' "
One night show • "The Garrens Comedy Troupe's 20th Anniversary Reunion Spectacular!" will include live performances of classic Garrens sketches and songs with a live band, Fans will see popular favorites like "Guys Apartment," "Sharing Our Journals," "The Pioneer Song," "Music Talk" (aka "A Cappella Gumby") and others, performed by the same people only older who performed them originally. The subject matter ranges from college life to pop culture, from dating and marriage to TV commercials.
The main show will be followed by a free-wheeling "Improv Jam."
The goals is to take eight years of material and squeeze it into two hours, Tufts said of the one-night show.
"We've been carefully planning this show for months and we're going to give the audience the very best of everything we did," he said.
Though older, fatter and possibly hairier, troupe members are confident that they are funnier two decades later.
"The raw energy has been replaced with stuff that's more intelligent and insightful. And perhaps more discerning," said Tufts. "When you're young, sometimes just being silly is enough. I'm sure we're not as silly as we once were and I miss that, but let's face it, silliness is a young man's game. Twenty years ago, we would really throw ourselves into everything we did. But today, that sort of enthusiasm could result in some broken hips."
Live from Provo, it's Saturday night!
"The Garrens Comedy Troupe 20th Anniversary Reunion Spectacular!"
When • Saturday, Sept. 14, 7 p.m., followed by a post-show "Improv Jam"
Where • Joseph Smith Building (JSB) Auditorium, Brigham Young University, Provo
Tickets • $8 in advance at http://bit.ly/garrens ; $10 at the door
Scheduled performers • Eric D. Snider, Lincoln Hoppe, Joel R. Wallin, Lisa Valentine Clark, Marc E. Shaw, Aaron Johnston, Lauren Keller Johnston, Ken Craig, Katie Fillmore Craig, Becky Baird, Jjana Valentiner, Dave Shipp, Daryn Tufts, Mark Berrett, Shawn Rapier, Jenni Smith Black, Chris Kendrick, Randy Tayler and more.