Friday, May 1, 2009
An Evening @ The Groundlings
Whose Line Is It Anyway? was annoying television. Drew Carey and four other comedians came around each week hoping to give America 22 minutes of laughs courtesy of half-written scripts, props, and the art of improv. This probably would have turned me off from improv forever had it not been for Saturday Night Live slip-ups or Curb Your Enthusiasm.
With a day off and free time to spend in traffic it was off to Cookin' With Gas, a two hour improvisational comedy show at The Groundlings Theater in Hollywood. Phil Hartman, Will Ferrell, Jon Lovitz, and countless other stars came from theaters like this where they were able to hone their skills in front of a hundred people a few nights a week. No bar, no props, just a few chairs on stage and 10 rows of cramped seating.
The walls in the lobby are covered in framed pictures of past performers and alumni so it's reminescent of the feeling you'd get from visiting a Hall of Fame. I'll admit I was pretty excited especially since many of the comedians I've enjoyed over the years put in so much work at places like this. Phil Hartman was on that same stage years ago.
Each week a special guest, typically an alum, appears with the regular cast of Cookin' with Gas. Last week it was Lisa Kudrow, this week it was Phil Lamarr from MadTV fame and Gary Anthony Williams from Malcolm in the Middle and Harold & Kumar.
It's too bad one of the surprise guests was not a surprise for me since I ran into Phil moments earlier at 7-11 and stared as he got a Slurpee.
Six cast members are directed by Karen Maruyama as she takes requests from the audience, filtering out the too vulgar or too silly (you might remember her as the Asian parking lot attendant that Larry David pretended to hold the elevator for). The improv sketches start with a main idea from Karen followed by an audible Madlib coming from the audience:
"Father/Son have heart-to-heart talk about..." --- "Making pancakes!"
"Bad stand-up routine from two guys who are..." --- "Parking lot valets!"
A roadtrip to Disneyland in a Smart Car, a faux play about a town called Westchester suffering from a plague, a pair of black fisherman talking about the Boston Tea Party. It was all good fun and all six cast members pulled their weight. Gary stole most of the show with his comedic timing and already proven acting skills so if he's there every week you're guaranteed laughs. I've never seen a black sexually-confused orphan in old London times played so well.
If you're bothered by any of this typed material, I promise you it was the definition of a you-had-to-be-there type of funny.
Improv isn't for everyone, but Cookin' With Gas with an ensemble headlined by Gary would convert the most annoyed person by this medium of comedy. See it!