So what’s it like to attend an
improv show at Blacktop Comedy? Over the years, they have had many
different shows with a theme, like “Belly Laughs” (where the improvised
comedy involves professional belly dancers) or Halloween-time “Teen
Slasher” or “True Story” where an audience member shares a true story
that the improvisers build on. These are “long form improv” in which an
entire skit is developed on stage. These shows are offered
occasionally, but the mainstay of Blacktop Comedy – a show you can see
every week – is “Shorties,” or “short-form improv.” Every Saturday
night you can catch a “Shorties” show, consisting of improv games like
those featured on the TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” Starting in
January, 2015, Blacktop Comedy began offering a family-friendly version
of the show called “Shorties (Clean)” at 7:00, followed by the
uncensored version at 8:30.
Late in 2014, Blacktop Comedy moved
to a new venue, the Showdown Theater, in a strip mall at the corner of
Sunset and Whitney in Rocklin, and I attended their first “Shorties
(Clean)” show on January 17, 2015. The Showdown Theater is surprisingly
large, wider than deep, and when I arrived, about 45 very comfortable
folding chairs had been set up for the audience. The stage was a dais
raised about a foot, roughly 10 feet deep and 25 feet wide, set with 4
chairs in front of a curtain. Hip hop music was playing when I
entered, and through the evening lively music of a variety of styles was
played before and after the shows. A screen was suspended over the
stage and on it were displayed slides that gave promos for Blacktop
Comedy, profiles of performers, alternated with some very funny YouTube
videos (which I would like to have seen more of).
For this first offering of “Shorties
(Clean),” the audience was fairly thin – about 20 people, including
maybe half a dozen children. The lights went out and four performers (3
men and one woman) took the stage. When the lights came back on each
performer introduced themself briefly, warming up the audience by asking
us to shout out the answer to some simple question, like “What’s your
favorite color?” There were six cards attached to the curtain behind
the performers, with numbers 1 to 6 on the cards. On the back of each
was written the name of an improv game, and the order was determined by
the audience shouting out a number.
Most of the games were familiar to
me. “Fortune Teller” (which involved an audience volunteer) had
elements of charades in it. “Puppets” had two audience members move the
arms, head, etc. of two performers, who improvised their dialog, but
didn’t move on their own. “Questions Only” had two performers conduct a
dialog using questions only – replaced by another performer if they said
something that wasn’t a question or couldn’t think of what to say.
There are many, many more improv games, so I would expect each
“Shorties” show to have its own selection.
Was it all funny? Yes, indeed. I
had a lot of good laughs during the one-hour show, as did all my fellow
audience members. The basic idea behind improv is that, not knowing
exactly what will happen creates a tension in both performers and
audience, and when a performer comes out with something clever or funny,
the laughs come as a release of that tension. It doesn’t always work,
of course, but when it does, it can lead to side-splitting laughs, as it
did for me many times during the show.
I stayed for the traditional
“Shorties” show that began at 8:30. It drew a much bigger crowd – about
50, I’d say – enough that they had to set up more chairs. This show had
5 performers (4 men and one woman), though one man mostly acted as an
MC. And there were 9 games, several the same as the previous show, but
still the show lasted only one hour.
Of course, with a bigger, more
responsive audience, you would expect the show to be more lively, and
that was the case. But the humor was not intentionally “adult.” In
fact, I don’t recall any scenes that were suggestive, and I remember
only one word that would have been bleeped if spoken on TV or radio.
I had a lot of good laughs from this
show, too, and I have to say that my favorite game was “Weekend at
Bernie’s,” based on the movie where characters get killed off one by
one. In the game, all 4 actors perform a brief scene (suggested by the
audience, as is everything in these games). Then the audience votes to
have one actor “killed” and the others have to redo the scene, moving
his (or her) lifeless body. Then another actor is “killed” and so on
until the final actor has to rush around playing all the parts – and
moving the lifeless bodies of the other actors. It was a scream.
The thing about improv is that you
never know exactly what to expect, so with different actors and
different games, each “Shorties” show will be different. Actually, the
audience makes a difference, too – not only in its responsiveness
inspiring the actors, but in the quality of audience volunteers. Many
improv games involve one or two audience volunteers, and a volunteer can
really make a skit work. In the game “Sound Effects” in the later
“Shorties” show, an audience volunteer was given a microphone to make
sound effects for the performers, and he was just terrific. By the way,
Blacktop Comedy emphasizes that they don’t pick on audience members in
any way, so if you want to just sit in the dark and enjoy the show, it’s
OK. But if you volunteer, they give you a free ticket to another show.
Either way, it’s a fun, different way to spend part of your evening.