There are three things the local ComedySportz team has going for it: energy, ethusiasm and raw talent.
Comedy improvisation is not easy. It’s one thing for an actor to spontaneously come up with dialogue, character choices and plot conflicts; add to that the requirement that oh, yeah, it has to be FUNNY, too, and it becomes a whole different ball game. Often the focus becomes being funny, and the other elements — believable characters, a scene that actually goes somewhere — get left behind.
The concept of ComedySportz is simple: Two teams of improvisational actors (there’s an actress on the team, too, but it was all guys both nights I saw it) compete against each other to see who can do the funniest improvs. Points are awarded, based mostly on the audience voting, although the referee (also a cast member) can arbitrarily assign points as well.
The point system is a gimmick; no one really cares who wins, and the performers switch teams from one show to the next anyway. In fact, the whole show is gimmick-intensive. The “sports” thing permeates it, even down to beginning with a sped-up, disrespectful version of the National Anthem.
The point where the gimmick becomes a problem is in the fact that most of the games rely more on the premise than on the material. For example, “Blind Line” has the referee ask the audience for sentences, usually movie quotes, to be written on slips of paper. Then the cast members start a scene, occasionally picking up one of the slips of paper at random and having that be the next line. Obviously, the less appropriate the line is for the situation, the better; that’s why it’s funny.
But there’s the problem: THAT’S why it’s funny. It’s not funny because the cast members are doing anything clever with the scene, or because their characters are amusing; it’s funny because their dialogue is filled with non-sequiturs — which the audience provided.
Both times I saw this improv done — and this is typical of the scene-based improvs ComedySportz does — nothing really happened in the scene. It was just a few actors hopping around madly, interrupting each other, everyone trying to move the scene in a different direction, with little give-and-take among them.
Nearly everyone is trying so hard to be the funniest one up there — ironic, considering they’re supposed to be working as teams — that it’s tiring just to watch them. The high energy is fantastic, and it keeps the audience enthused; unfortunately, that high energy is often used in place of actual comedy.
Another problem is the group’s tendency to do “easy” jokes, particularly in the area of men falling in love. (Look! It’s two guys, and they’re FALLING IN LOVE! Isn’t that funny?!) The audience suggests doing a scene in “romance movie” style, and rather than the all-male cast doing something creative like talking about a woman who is not present, or having her be invisible, they go ahead and dress one of their own like a woman and have the others fight over her. Not only is it mildly creepy to see this done over and over again, but comedically speaking, it’s the easy way out. They’re cheap laughs, and the positive reaction from the audience only encourages them.
The group’s talents lie mostly in verbal comedy, not physical, probably because when you’re just speaking, there’s no way to overdo it, no way to try too hard. All six cast members were marvelous in a pun-filled joke-fest called “185,” with the jokes coming fast and furious, many of them extremely clever — and about the only time in the show where the audience really says, “Wow, how’d they think of them so FAST?”
Another game has the cast doing a one-minute scene in a straight-forward manner. Then, they have to replay the same scene, only with different accents, or singing it in a particular musical genre. This, too, showed talent, not just with the good accents they did, but with the clever ways they turned the scene around. (Originally, it was a hot dog vendor; when the audience suggested he do it with an Australian accent, he started selling “fried croc” instead.)
The team has a few stand-outs. Damian Dayton is the quickest, and often the only person in a scene to make anything happen. Rubber-faced Maclain Nelson is a fan favorite, and Daryn Tufts’ prior experience with the Garrens Comedy Troupe shines through.
ComedySportz IS funny. Uneven, inconsistent and occasionally amateurish, yes. But funny nonetheless. And with more practice, they’ll only get funnier. The talent is there; they just need more time.
This was an unusual review to write because it was an unusual show. ComedySportz does two shows a week, each one completely different, obviously, since it's improvised. One could argue that it's really not even theater, but rather some other form of entertainment, but that argument would only serve in angering the people who take comedy improvisation really seriously.
To be as fair as possible, I saw the show twice, on two different nights. I know that any group can have "off" nights, and I wanted to get an accurate impression of how the group usually is.
I have some experience with comedy improv myself, having been in The Garrens for quite some time and having done about a thousand improvs with them. I felt like I knew whereof I spoke, more than I often do with these reviews.