The Placer Performance Calendar


Great Local Shows - Theatrical Reviews

Title "Shorties" and "Shorties (Clean)"
Organization Blacktop Comedy
Date(s) of show Every Saturday night
Reviewer Dick Frantzreb

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.

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