One heck of a run: Veteran Valley improv comedians the Ha-Ha’s perform their final shows

  • From left, Laura Patrick, Moe McElligott and Pam Victor, who are members of the improv comedy troupe The Ha-Ha’s, rehearse at Happier Valley Comedy in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Moe McElligott, from left, Pam Victor and Laura Patrick, who are members of the improv comedy troupe The Ha-Ha's, rehearse at Happier Valley Comedy in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • From left, Moe McElligott, Laura Patrick and Pam Victor, who are members of the improv comedy troupe The Ha-Ha's, rehearse at Happier Valley Comedy in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Laura Patrick, from left, Moe McElligott and Pam Victor, who are members of the improv comedy troupe The Ha-Ha's, rehearse Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019 at Happier Valley Comedy in Hadley. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Laura Patrick, from left, Moe McElligott and Pam Victor, who are members of the improv comedy troupe The Ha-Ha's, rehearse Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019 at Happier Valley Comedy in Hadley. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Laura Patrick, from top, Pam Victor and Moe McElligott, who are members of the improv comedy troupe The Ha-Ha's, rehearse Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019 at Happier Valley Comedy in Hadley. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Moe McElligott, from left, Laura Patrick and Pam Victor, who are members of the improv comedy troupe The Ha-Ha's, rehearse Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019 at Happier Valley Comedy in Hadley. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Pam Victor, from left, Moe McElligott and Laura Partick, who are members of the improv comedy troupe The Ha-Ha's, at Happier Valley Comedy in Hadley, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/11/2019 4:23:07 PM
Modified: 12/11/2019 4:22:57 PM

Pam Victor still remembers the thrill she got when she took part in an improv comedy workshop in Hadley back in 2003. She’d been involved in theater in high school and college, but ​​​​​​this was something new and exciting, she thought, with infinite possibilities.

By the end of the class, Victor recalls, “I was fully addicted.”

It wasn’t long after that Victor, living in Pelham, found herself chatting with staff at the town library about the possibility of staging an improv comedy show there that she would put on. Library staff were game, and she left the building in a rush of excitement.

But Victor, who still lives in Pelham, remembers coming to a sudden halt moments later. “It wasn’t until I got out of the library that I realized I’d booked a show for an improv group that didn’t exist,” she said with a laugh during a recent phone interview.

And so were born the Ha-Ha’s — an improv comedy team that Victor quickly put together with her friends Laura Patrick and Maile Shoul, two women she’d met in the Hadley workshop. They both agreed to perform with her in the Pelham Library, along with three other budding comedians.

“Pam has always been a gamer,” said Patrick, who remembers having some trepidation about that initial gig, but also that it came off well.

Fast forward 16 years, and the Ha-Ha’s, originally called the Ha-Ha Sisterhood, have long been a mainstay on the Valley’s comedy scene. The original members, along with a number of other longtime performers such as Moe McElligott and Christine Stevens, as well as guest artists, have done their work “in every nook and cranny in the Valley,” Victor says, including other libraries, the Northampton Senior Center, the Northampton Center for the Arts and, over the past year and a half, at Happier Valley Comedy in Hadley.

But the group is now saying “au revoir but not adieu,” as they put it. This Saturday at Happier Valley Comedy, and at First Night Northampton on Dec. 31, the Ha-Ha’s will give their last regular performances, though they imagine they’ll still get together for special occasions in the future.

But this isn’t like the Beatles breaking up in acrimony. “We’re so boring,” Victor said, laughing. “We all get along so well.”

Rather, she and Patrick note, the members of the Ha-Ha’s have built up new relationships with other Valley comedians in more recent years, and the scene in general has seen considerable growth, in part because the opening of Happier Valley Comedy has finally given improv enthusiasts a regular place to do their thing. The Ha-Ha’s have been the venue’s “in-house” comedy team, performing monthly since the club opened in August 2018.

“We’ve had a great run,” said Patrick. “But I think we also felt it was time to branch out and move a little beyond our brand.”

“I don’t think it’s that common for any group of comedians, or musicians, or a theatrical group, to stay together for 16 years,” said Victor. “That we were able to perform all this time and have fun and stay fresh, I think that’s a testament to our friendship and the support so many people [in the Valley] have given us over the years.”

Teamwork and acting

In fact, members of the Ha-Ha’s will continue to share improv stages in the future, though in different combinations. For instance, Patrick, McElligott and Victor will be part of the cast for a new monthly act that debuts in January at Happier Valley Comedy, a “mockumentary” show.

And the members have been performing separately with other comedians at the club in the past year or so. Shoul is part of a new group known as “The Understudies,” which stages an improvised monthly musical there. (The premise is that the cast of a new Broadway musical is MIA on opening night, so the backup actors — with help from the audience — have to put on the show.)

Victor, meantime, has done skits with Scott Braidman, general manager and artistic director at Happier Valley Comedy. (Braidman is also considered “an honorary Ha-Ha,” Patrick says, having guest performed with the group many times over the years.)

“I think we [Ha-Ha members] have all been excited about the opportunities we’ve had to work with these other talented people,” said Victor. She notes that the improv class she took back in 2003 was taught in part by veteran Valley thespian and comedian Kelsey Flynn, who now also performs (and teaches a storytelling class) at Happier Valley.

At the heart of improv work, Victor adds, is not so much comic genius but “good teamwork” and good acting. “One of the things that so impressed me about Laura and Maile was their ability as actors and their backgrounds,” said Victor. Shoul, she says, has experience with the Hampshire Shakespeare Company in Lenox. Patrick, meantime, says she has a background in theater and TV and grew up in “a theater family” in New York City.

“And so much of good improv is based on trust and teamwork and using your experience together to take chances,” Victor added. Patrick agrees: With the Ha-Ha’s, she said, “I didn’t have to worry about someone catching me if I fell.”

Helping budding comedians find their mojo is also a big part of Happier Valley Comedy. (Victor actually started the business about six years ago, but it didn’t have a regular home until last year.) In addition to a number of weekend shows, the Hadley club offers a range of classes and workshops — taught by Victor, Patrick and others — on improv comedy, storytelling and other skills, the overriding theme being that laughter can be a good antidote to many of life’s pitfalls (Victor is known as the “Head of Happiness” at the Hadley center).

As she said in an interview a few years ago, another central message for students is to have confidence in themselves, not be self-censoring, and not feel they have to be instantly witty. “We talk about the idea of ‘You are enough,’ ” she said. “You don’t have to be funny, you don’t have to be quick, you don’t have to be clever. You just have to be you.”

Most important for Victor, Patrick, McEllington and others who have been part of the Ha-Ha’s are the lasting friendships they’ve built in rehearsing and performing their skits, like one that may be on the playbill at Saturday’s show, built around the title of “Where Freud Meets Funny.”

To end their regular run “is bittersweet in some ways,” said Victor. “But I will cherish every moment we had together.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

The Ha-Ha’s will perform at Happier Valley Comedy, 1 Mill Valley Road in Hadley, on Saturday at 7 p.m. Tickets and additional information can be found at happiervalley.com. The group, joined by former Ha-Ha Christine Stevens, will also perform two shows at First Night Northampton on Dec. 31, at 7 and 8 p.m., at Theatre 14 at Smith College.


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