by NATHAN HARPER
Miley Cyrus has just killed someone in the swamp with a thimble. The motive is unknown, but fortunately there was a witness. Unfortunately, that witness can only speak gibberish. Logically, that means the only way they’ll be able to explain the renegade pop-star’s crime is to demonstrate what happened by miming it out. And that’s just what they do.
Through a combination of exaggerated stabbing motions, clapping arms imitating alligator jaws, and of course copious amounts of butt waggling, people are made to understand the exact events that took place on that fateful day amongst the imaginary mangroves.
If that sounds funny, that’s a good thing because it’s supposed to be. “Serial Murder” was just one of the many preposterous setups that unknowing members of The Comedy Brewers were thrown into during their performance on a recent Sunday night at the Bas Bleu Theater in north Fort Collins. The Comedy Brewers are an improv troupe that have been performing together for about a year, and the comedic chemistry they possess on stage is a testament to the hard work they’ve put into being funny.
Onstage the group consists of six members, with the audience acting as a seventh, as the show is built around their participation. The group asks them to shout out ideas for the improbable scenarios they’ll be acting out, e.g. infamous crimes someone has committed, terrible locations for a first date, or movie genres.
“Improv isn’t just ‘live’ theater, it is double live theater because the audience is actively participating in the creative journey with the improvisers,” said group member David Austin-Groen.
In a typical setup one of the group members is sent out of the room while an ordeal like the above mentioned swamp murder is concocted. Then, the temporarily exiled person is brought back in to guess what happened, always under any number of comedic guises. These bits are some of the shows strongest because they make the audience feel like they’re in on a joke that the hapless but earnestly guessing cast member is not.
“When we’re live, we just feel it out and let the scene run itself. The audience loves to watch us struggle which works out well for us,” said Jessica Lipman, one of the Comedy Brewers co-founders and another member of the group.
Austin-Groen agrees: “Seeing the actor’s struggle with suggestions and finally succeed is pure gold for a show.”
The Brewers’ 90 minute performance is fast paced and physical, and in order to keep the laughs coming the group has to work together to keep the action moving. They’re able to do this by trusting that their fellow improvisers will be willing to stay with them through a scene, regardless of where it goes.
“Perhaps the most important [rule of improv] is to always say ‘Yes’,” Lipman said. “It’s important to be able to accept the ‘gifts’ your teammates give you and be able to roll with them.”
The troupe also credits their experience as trained stage actors for helping them keep their comedic inertia rolling.
“Someone with traditional stage training who works in improv is very likely going to have a more honest sense of character in any given improv scene,” Austin-Groen said. “[This] will in turn make stakes higher, and the end product far more entertaining.”
And while an honest sense of character on the traditional stage might mean keeping poor Willy Loman sympathetically downtrodden, in improv it means mimicking getting stabbed by a narwhale so convincingly that someone else can guess what’s happening while an audience of about a hundred people watch and laugh.
The Comedy Brewers audience spans an impressive age range with everyone from junior high students to retirees filling the Bas Bleu, alongside raucous groups of friends and couples out for the evening. They keep things PG-13 so performances are family friendly, and keep engagement high with lots of crowd participation.
If you’re bored with football or are just looking for some analog entertainment on the second Sunday of each month, the Comedy Brewers go on stage at 7:30 pm and are booked through December 2014. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 day of show, and can be purchased through the theater’s website – www.basbleu.org.