KPBS AIRDATE: JANUARY 12, 2001
Okay, when I count to 3, you have to be funny. Ready? One, two… No, let me make it a little harder. I’ll give you a topic to be funny on…… All right, go!
Comic improvisation isn’t as easy as it sounds. You can’t just be humorous on demand. You have to be quick-witted, knowledgeable, fast-paced, inventive, creative, imaginative… and probably a little crazy. Many may try, but it’s only for the few, the loud, the brave. ComedySportz makes improv into a competition. The games are played in 20 cities nationwide, from Phoenix to Philadelphia, D.C. to L.A. to Green Bay.
Usually the local team is pitted against visiting contenders. Laughs win points, groans warrant public apologies; distasteful, obscene, low-blow, sexist or racist humor is punished by a bag over the offender’s head. The list of potential games appears in the program, and the audience sometimes gets to voice its preferences. There are some four dozen options, with titillating titles such as Blind Date Replay, Pavlovian Response, Parallel Universe, Audience SFX, Dr. Know-It-All and Shakespeare. The referee solicits audience suggestions, and we also get to sing the ComedySportz theme song, “Take Me Out to See Improv.”
The funniest bit by far, which entails less improv than sheer skill and rat-a-tat timing, is called Five Things. The night I was there, one player upped the ante by changing it to Historical Five Things. His partner was escorted out of the room by an audience member. The Ref then asked for the name of a historical event — and, for example, someone called out “Valley Forge.” Running with that, the Ref then continued, ‘And instead of the snow, there was what on the ground?’ “Hippos,” yelled an active spectator. ‘And instead of a gun, what was General Washington carrying?’ “A pregnant chad,” came the rapid reply.
There were five such setups, and when gifted player Matt McDonald returned, his partner, the equally talented JD Walsh, had four minutes to mime, act or use gibberish to convey the five crazy gambits so that Matt could guess them. He was, amazingly, 100% accurate. It was incredibly exciting to watch the revelations unfold.
ComedySportz, which also calls itself the National Comedy Theatre, has a troupe of about 18 players. Typically, the game requires two teams of three. On the night I was there, 5 locals split up to compete against each other as the Coronado Harbor Patrol and the San Diego Free Agents. Walsh and McDonald were by far the best performers, with solid backup by Chris Burris and Referee Chris Crotty.
Improv is always a gamble, depending on the audience as much as the players. But when the company works together for two years, three shows every weekend, they’re bound to be a well-oiled machine and a cohesive team. These guys are obviously warmed up, in shape and ready to rumble. Let the Games begin!
©2001 Patté Productions Inc.