Improv’s best and funniest

Twin Cities Improv Festival pairs local and national acts

THE WEDGE
— Butch Roy said he couldn’t think of a single Sunday when there wasn’t at least one new face in the crowd at Improv-A-Go-Go, the weekly improvisational comedy showcase he hosts at Brave New Workshop.

That’s a pretty good track record for a show that just celebrated its sixth anniversary in May. One new face times 52 weeks a year times six years equals, roughly, a lot of exposure for the local improv scene.

Could the $1 ticket price have something to do with it?

Whatever the case, Roy and Improv-A-Go-Go certainly played a role in introducing many local audience members to the (by all accounts) small but thriving improv comedy scene in the Twin Cities.

The out-of-town acts arriving later this month for the second annual Twin Cities Improv Festival at Brave New Workshop agreed: Something exciting is happening here.

“I think it’s really up-and-coming,” said Mark Sutton of the Chicago-based Bassprov. “Years ago when we first started coming there, there were only a few groups outside of Brave New Workshop that were really exploring [improv] comedy.”

But that’s changing. Shaun Landry, one half of San Francisco’s Irish Mutts, said Twin Cities improv’s heightened national profile was visible from the West Coast.

“The improv scene [in Minneapolis] has just blown up,” Landry said.

As Roy explained it, interest in improvisational comedy just reached a critical mass after five or six years of strong growth. Roy and the other members of his comedy team, Five Man Job, recognized that and organized last year’s inaugural festival at the Brave New Workshop.

“Our audiences are some of the best in the country, as far as being theater-savvy, improv-savvy audiences,” he said.

This year’s lineup includes 14 local groups and 11 other improv acts from Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco and Austin, Tex.

Among the 25 of them, they showcase a fairly broad range of what’s happening in improv today. There’s everything from the Josh and Tamra Show (puppet improv) to the Election Show (campaign as comedy — not a stretch) to Bassprov (sort of like an improvised one-act play, Sutton said.)

There will be 13 shows total, most of them pairing one of the visiting groups with a local act, like Mike Fotis and Joe Bozic of Ferrari McSpeedy. Having been the unknown out-of-towners at other festivals, Fotis and Bozic agreed the pairings made sense.

“I think it’s a great way to … make people more aware of the environment here [in the Twin Cities] in terms of improv and, hopefully, help bring audiences to groups that they maybe haven’t heard of,” Fotis said.

Experienced improvisers will hone their skills in advanced improv workshops spread out over two days of the festival. (If your skills aren’t quite ready for the stage, there’s also a three-hour beginner’s improv class Saturday with Charna Helpern, co-founder with Del Close of Chicago’s iO Theater.)

There’s enough seat-of-your-pants comedy packed into the four days of the festival to make your cheeks ache with laughter.

Some die-hards will probably camp out at the Brave New Workshop for all four days. If you’re only going to stop by for one or two shows, it might be a good place to hang out and pick up word-of-mouth on the best acts.

It’s easy to imagine that performers leave the stage pretty revved-up; improv is comedy’s version of the high wire act. So don’t be surprised if you hear some guffaws at coming from some booth in an Uptown watering hole, Sutton said.

“That’s the best part about an improv festival: The performers like to go out and have a drink with the crowd afterward,” he said. “It’s just one big party.”

Go See It

The second annual Twin Cities Improv Festival is June 26–29 at Brave New Workshop, 2605 Hennepin Ave. S. Tickets for individual shows are $10. To purchase tickets or festival passes, or to sign up for improv workshops, visit the festival website, www.twincitiesimprovfestival.com.

Tickets also are sold at the Brave New Workshop box office. www.bravenewworkshop.org. 332-6620.