Denver Improv Festival – My Trip, Day 5

And that’s a wrap.

I was first up for Saturday’s shows at the Denver Improv Festival and I was pumped. Here’s some thoughts on my show and the rest of the shows that evening:

The Uncle Ukulele Show – I left the stage feeling good about my show. I had a fun crowd who seemed into it, and that’s the most important thing to me. I did seven songs including the two brand-new pieces I’ve been working on. I haven’t performed The Uncle Ukulele Show since the Milwaukee Improv Festival in August, and my show in Denver admittedly had a few hiccups in terms of smooth transitions and a fumbled chord or two, but the audience stuck with me, as far as I could tell. It was nice to have a mixed house of improvisers and non-improvisers, too, and they surprised me by singing along to choruses several times. One thing I would take away from this last show in terms of how to improve my show is to just memorize my set list. I wrote it down and I think because of that, I tended to rely on it too much. If it’s only in my head, it forces me to remember it or at least deal with it if I forget what’s next. I had fun, so thanks, DIF! Standout Moments (to me as the performer): The audience spontaneously singing along to one of my new segments (that was so cool!), the pleasantly surprising moment during my pop song when the horse I was riding sprouted wings and a horn to become a Pegasus Unicorn (the look of surprise and delight on my face was, apparantly, pretty hilarious), and Bat McCain biting Obama Goat and making him Vampire Obama Goat (I think we all remember that debate).

Curds Only – Ryan Williams (from last night’s solo show, Kumate) and Chris Woolf (who provided tech for the show at the Impulse last night) reunited for their longform duo, Curds Only, and it was obvious these guys were excited to be working together again. Both actors got really physical with their improv, something I love to see, and their attitude was a sort of faux bravado that set a laid-back tone for the show. The first suggestion they received was “bus station,” one of the most cliche improv suggestions in the universe and I thought, “Oh, no,” in my head, but I was so glad to see them do something cool with it; in their structure, they establish one or two characters apiece and then switch off and play each other’s roles. The connected listening required for this was commendable and a half. Standout Moments: An argument between friends over the best knapsack ever, a good cop / bad cop game of a dude named Larry tied to a chair being worked over by Casbury and Murphy, and a kid in love with ice cream promises to sell ice cream at his school whose vendor / supplier asks, “You’re not going to get high off your own supply, right?”

After the show, we loaded up all of my gear into the car and had dinner at the Rock Bottom Brewery. The camera got put in the car, too, so no more photos from me, unfortunately.   Burger: The Bourbonzola. Parking ticket: validated. Post-show feeling: Awesome. Back to the Bovine? Yep.

A.C.E. – Featuring an American, a Canadian, and an Englishman, A.C.E. has been improvising in Denver for a long time and I remember seeing some fantastic improv from them during my days frequenting the Improv Hootenanny. They had the audience laughing last night, including me, and yet in all honesty their set was loose, distractingly loose (missed gifts, silent moments of actors staring at each other and not knowing what’s going on, constant corpsing ((“Corpsing” is breaking character by laughing in a scene.)) ). And I know their set was loose because I’ve seen them do some tight, solid improv. Also, I’m surprised every scene was a three-person scene; if that’s an ensemble’s specialty, great, yet without a single one- or two-person scene in the set, some third-person entrances run the risk of feeling forced. I want to be honest to my impressions and I think mine come from a place of wanting more, having seen them be so great. Standout Moments: Jamie Krutz provided phenomenal electric guitar background music for the entire show, including some improvised songs. Jamie is like the Warren Zevon of the Denver improv scene and it was a pleasure to see him again. Also, I loved the line, “Don’t take away my chipmunks! I’m addicted!”

Drum Machine – I think I always knew, but have finally figured out how to articulate, why Jill Bernard’s improv shows are so endearing, captivating, and successful: they’re based in emotion or more precisely, love. She gets suggestions to set the scene, including a topic and a historic backdrop, but really it’s the emotional relationships revolving around love that drives her improv. Jill ditched her drum machine in favor of live keyboardist and former Minneapolis improviser, Seymour Muchmore, and he definitely added some talent to the already excellent show. Her tale of two brothers and a new lover for the older brother accidentallly inventing beer had the grand scale of many of the Drum Machine tales I’ve witnessed, and Bernard’s crowd was nothing less than satisfied, if not downright giddy (all one needed to do was listen to them gush in the lobby after the show). Standout Moments: “People in love don’t drown!”, a brother named Trigg, a father happy to be rid of his idiot daughter, a floating corpse, and “Love is all the scuba gear I’ll need.”

After the 9:30pm show, Kelly and I went back to Sam’s No. 3 and had the same server. She was even more flabergasted that we were back two nights in a row. ((“Well, back again?! Deja vu, huh?! Deja vu!!!))

Dishwater Blondes – There’s been much written and said about women and comedy, women and improv for that matter. And in a way, even mentioning how improv is mostly populated by white men when talking about an all-women ensemble bows to the cliché. And still, maybe it’s because most improv I see is performed by “people who look like me” that I’m left amazed by strong female improvisers, and this group of five are talented. Characters were great, relationships were funny, and I’m always a fan of a callback-heavy set, especially when it doesn’t feel forced (which it wasn’t; everything was highly organic). None of them succumbed to the “look how crazy and/or sexy I can be” trap that some female improvisers fall into (I could say the same about men falling into the “look how aloof and/or weird I can be” trap) Standout Moments: a persistent informercial that reaches out of the TV and turns itself back on, a psychic who bases her readings on whatever movie she saw the night before, sudden baby births and absent-minded physicians, and “I see the future in spaghetti noodles… I keep a dream diary.”

SCRAM – Joe Bill and Jill Bernard teamed up for a two-person Scramble, a longform structure Joe told me about in the car on Friday which got me pumped up to see it. Actors create two two-person scenes running concurrently, interacting with an absent “ghost” character until they switch off and enter the other person’s scene, taking on that “ghost” character and fleshing out the scene further. This book-ended the show which only comprised of one single scene – an estranged father and daughter waiting for a long-lost daughter (who may not even actually be his daughter) to arrive. This structure was a breath of fresh air, having some of the most tender, emotional moments of the festival. Five minutes would pass without a laugh because the audience was so caught up in the relationship between a depressed daughter and her ungrateful father. Again, Jill does well with scenework revolving around love, and the relationship she and Joe created was captivating. Standout Moments: Guessing what brand of pudding the last pudding cup is, “Listen up, because I’m rarely going to say this: ‘thank you.'” and this exchange: Father: “Do you know what the last line of the telegram was?” Daughter: “Was it ‘stop’?”

We didn’t stay for the afterparty; we were just wiped out. We said our goodbyes to Joe, Jon, Jean, and many others, and headed back to the hotel. Sleep called us to bed and I did not protest.

Kelly and I caught every single DIF show this Friday and Saturday, choosing to pony up some cash for her tickets (I had free admission as a performer) and immerse ourselves in the festival all weekend. I’m surprised by how few improvisers, especially DIF performers with free admission – came close to this feat over the course of the festival. Now, let’s get hypocrisy out of the way: I’ve been out of town or getting married during both of the improv festivals in my neck of the woods, so perhaps I’m off base here and just don’t understand what it’s like to be an improviser when a festival is being held on the home turf. But this is my ninth festival appearance and the first I can remember when it really felt like some local improvisers were picking and choosing when to be there, as opposed to most festivals I’ve attended where it seemed most local improvisers made it a point to be there as much as possible.

I’m not trying to take away from those improvisers who showed up to a bunch of shows – there was a healthy handful, and they rock for supporting the festival. But showing up only to perform your own show and immediately leaving afterward? To me, that 1. doesn’t build community, 2. doesn’t foster the festival, and 3. comes off as pretty snobby. Pardon me for being frank on this matter (hey, at least I’m not naming names), but after experiencing festivals that brought local improvisers together (Milwaukee immediately springs to mind, as does Miami), it was unfortunate that, to this non-local, it didn’t necessarily feel like the majority of local improvisers were choosing to consistently show up. Double-kudos to those local improvisers who made it their business to support this festival which ultimately supports the local improv community. It’s a symbiotic relationship that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

But that’s a small mark on what was otherwise a fun, well-run festival. Jon Lannen and Jean Schuman, thank you. Joe Bill – it was great to see you again, hope it’s not another year before we meet again. Jill Bernard – I think I saw you more this weekend than I have in the last six months, which is a bummer; let’s change it up! Matt Fogel – thank you for the amazing tech. Howard – your hosting skills were top-notch. Carl Wedell and Frank Haas – your hospitality was truly appreciated (as well as the tip of grinding cinnamon with my coffee beans). Good to see so many familiar faces again: Ryan Williams, Chris Woolf, Eric Farone, Adrian Holguin, and many more.

We’re heading out to the airport. If anything ridiculous / amazing / tragic happens, I’ll do a final update. Otherwise, that’s my report from the fourth annual Denver Improv Festival.


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