Meghana Jayam is a living M&T meme—she's the president of the program's student board, and rarely takes off her M&T sweatshirt. But while the rest of her classmates are running throughout Huntsman to club meetings, Meghana's more likely to be holed up in Platt Performing Arts House, where she moonlights (quite literally, because these rehearsals can go late) as the chairwoman of Bloomers, Penn's kickass female comedy troupe. And by the way, Bloomers has a show this weekend. Meghana thinks you should come.
34th Street: First of all, I don’t think there are any two worlds at Penn more different than M&T and the comedy/performing arts scene. What’s it like to be such a big part of both of those?
Meghana Jayam: I do kind of wish there was more overlap! What’s ended up happening is that my roommates are M&T, my classmates are M&T, and then my close friends outside of that are Bloomers, who I spend most of the rest of my time with during the week. I think in the M&T world when people think of me, they think of this really high–energy person who just kind of talks about Bloomers a lot and always has rehearsal. It probably seems like I use that as an excuse to get out of things, but I really just have so much rehearsal.
In Bloomers, and in the bigger performing arts world, if people even know me, they know me as the M&T student who’s kind of corporate and is always working in Huntsman. When I joined Bloomers, I was the only member of cast who wasn’t in the College. I think I still am! So I never really had overlapping classes with my Bloomers friends. Freshman year, I was really worried that spending all of my time with Bloomers instead of on Wharton clubs it would hurt me for recruiting, but to be honest, I kind of think being involved with Bloomers got me my job.
Street: Have you always been involved in performing arts?
MJ: No! I never did musical theater or anything like that when I was in high school, which a lot of people in Bloomers did. I’d tried out for various things, but I didn’t end up getting them, and performing was just never very important to me. My senior year, I decided to join a step team, which was my way of trying to get out of my comfort zone and forcing myself to do something that I had never done before. So of course that ended up being the best part of my senior year, and when I came to Penn I was like, “I need to do something that stretches me and forces me to get out of my comfort zone.”
I tried out for a few different dance groups, and was really focusing all of my efforts on getting into Penn Masti. When I showed up at Bloomers auditions, I was in a pretty bad mood about not getting into Masti, and I figured that if I couldn’t get into a dance group, there was no way a comedy group was going to take me. I almost didn’t go to Bloomers auditions—I showed up right before they ended! I don’t know how everything worked out the way it did, but I am so lucky I didn’t join any of those dance groups.
Street: What was it like to join Bloomers without any comedy experience?
MJ: There’s just this incredible imposter syndrome in the group. Even now, people who are in Bloomers are always like, “What if I’m just not funny?” I remember being at this mini writer’s retreat at our head writer’s house and just thinking, “I’m not funny enough to be in this group, and these women are so talented.” It’s a thing I still think about. But I think that being nervous can help, because it forces you to really think about what you’re doing, and who your characters are, and how you’re delivering your lines. Other than that I was surprised at how intense our rehearsal schedule was. We rehearse for 16 hours a week, which I feel like is pretty normal for a performing arts group, but when I say that to my other friends in M&T, they’re just shocked that it’s like a varsity sport time commitment.
Street: What’s the writing and rehearsal schedule like?
MJ: We start a little more than a month before a show, with a writing period that’s around two weeks long, and then a two–week rehearsal period, roughly. This semester our writing period was shorter than last semester, and we also had LaughtHERfest on top of the writing period, so that was just crazy.
When we write, we usually start with a few improve games, then do a bit of brainstorming. We think about funny things that happened, or funny things that people have seen—stuff like that. And someone will be like, “Hey, I think it’s so weird that we Penn students do dot dot dot, let’s write a song parody out of that!” Once we choose a few things to write about, we break off into writing groups to put the bits together.
Street: How has Bloomers changed since you got to Penn?
MJ: It’s become more structured. I think we’ve become more popular because people are recognizing how talented Bloomers are. Four years ago, when I would tell people I was in Bloomers, a lot of people wouldn’t really know what it was. Now, to see people already excited a week before the show is shocking. We finally got a bigger theater—we’re in Iron Gate for the first time. It’s a pretty big shift for us tech–wise, plus the cast has to change their mindset in terms of making their actions bigger and thinking about different ways to tell jokes, even just so that everyone can hear. And tech and costumes are bigger than ever.
LaughtHERfest is also new since I got to Penn. We started doing that my sophomore year. I really think we’re trying to fill this void that exists for women in comedy at a collegiate level. Even the girls we talk to in groups at other schools tell us that their comedy scenes are predominantly male. There’s actually a group of girls at Brown who started their own group after coming to LaughtHERfest. They called it Skorts—it’s pretty much directly modeled off of us.
Street: Why do you think that there are so few women involved in comedy at the collegiate level?
MJ: I think comedy is just one of those risqué performing arts where, growing up, a lot of women are made to believe that they’re not funny or that they can’t be as funny as men. Even though nobody ever explicitly told me “You are not funny, and you can’t be funny”, when you look at TV shows and the general media, if a woman tries to be funny, it’s much more common that people are also going to say, “Oh, she’s annoying” or “I don’t like her voice.” They’ll pick on small details about the woman rather than looking at her actual jokes. So I think those messages have created this void. It’s very similar in STEM. M&T is more than half male, even though they’re working towards a better ratio. We know that girls are not as encouraged to go into STEM as men.
But I think we’re going in the right direction for both fields. There are a lot of people fighting for them Now is the best time to be a woman in either of these industries than ever before, so that’s lucky for me. Bloomers is growing a lot, and I think the group has a chance to be a really powerful force for women in comedy.
Street: What do you think of all of the M&T memes? Do you have a favorite one?
MJ: I actually think they’re very funny. I definitely wear my M&T sweatshirt loud and proud now. My friends in Bloomers are always making fun of me, but I appreciate the memes a lot. I am VERY involved in meme pages—that’s how I make friends, just by tagging people in memes. I don’t think I could choose a favorite meme, though. That’s like choosing between my children.
Street: What’s something I forgot to ask you?
MJ: You didn’t ask me what I wanted to be as a child!
Street: What did you want to be as a child?
MJ: I wanted to be a mad scientist. I definitely thought I was going to study math or physics in college and then become a mad scientist.
Street: What distinguishes a mad scientist from a normal scientist?
MJ: They’re kind of crazy. And I feel like I’m kind of crazy, like my personality is just very in–your–face. I think that’s what it is, they get very involved in what they’re doing and just push everything else aside. I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing to be, but I just wanted that mad scientist status anyway.
My favorite Bloomers sketch ever is…”This consulting bit we did freshman year when I didn’t know what consulting was. I thought it was just so hilarious."
My comedy idol is…”Aparna Nancherla, for sure. Maybe because she’s a strong Indian woman, maybe because she was on Bojack, maybe because she’s hilarious, or just a combination of all three.”
The song I cant stop listening to right now is…"'The Last of the Real Ones' by Fall Out Boy."
There are two types of people at Penn…”Those who have tickets to see the Bloomers show this weekend, and those who don’t.”