Panic Squad uses laughter to break down walls

Trinity Western University alumnus Andrew Bright (’96) lives for the sound audience members make when they cannot laugh anymore. He calls it the after-laugh.

“After a big laugh, you can hear ripples of laugh and giggles, people trying to take a breath,” he said. “When I hear that sound, it means I’ve done my job well.”

Bright is one of the founders of Panic Squad, a comedy group that’s been around since 1996.

The group members pride themselves on delivering high-quality and funny comedy that’s also family-friendly.

And on September 16, Bright, fellow TWU alumni and original Panic Squad members Scott Campbell and Dave Swan reunited for the first time in 10 years for a 20th anniversary show at the Freedom Hall Theatre during the university’s Alumni Weekend.

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(Left to right) Campbell, Swan, and Bright catch up before the show

“We’ve done a number of shows at TWU,” Bright said. “Slowly, show by show, we’re getting our tuition back!”

For Bright, the path to improv comedy started during a visit to TWU as a high school senior from Lynden, Wash. While walking around campus during a preview weekend, he saw a sign for the 11:07 Improv Comedy Show, a bimonthly show that showcases the improvisational talents of TWU students. Having never seen that particular kind of comedy before, Bright went to the show.

“I was blown away. They were making people laugh and creating comedy of thin air,” he said.

Bright joined the league during his second year at TWU and started performing with Campbell and Swan, who were also part of the league.

Despite graduating in 1996 and starting careers, the trio just could not give up on improv comedy. The founded Panic Squad and started doing shows in Lower Mainland bars and clubs. Bright, Campbell and Swan also decided to keep doing clean comedy and not use racist, sexist or explicit jokes.

“Anyone can tell a dirty joke and get an easy laugh,” explained Bright. “We feel it’s more rewarding and difficult to do clean comedy.”

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Bright, Campbell and Swan did their first show as Panic Squad at a club in New Westminster. Six people showed up, including two roommates, two parents and only two paying audience members.

“It was a defining moment. We talked about cancelling the show,” Bright said. “Instead, we decided not to let the size of the audience dictate the quality of our show.”

Panic Squad walked onstage and gave their best. Six months later, they were filling clubs and performing in front of more than 500 people.

In 2001, Bright, Campbell and Swan made Panic Squad their full-time job. While their first year was lean, their audiences kept growing. It culminated with a performance in front of a stadium filled with 35,000 people. In 2008, Campbell stopped doing comedy full-time and Bright took over as owner and operator of Panic Squad. Today, Panic Squad has a roster of 10 comedians spread around Canada and the U.S.