On Wednesday, Nov. 9, Santa Barbara experienced yet another night where everything was made up, and in the end the points didn’t matter. Sound familiar? I’m talking about improv, or improvised, comedy, of course — more specifically, “Whose Live Anyway?”
UCSB Arts & Lectures brought some much-needed levity to the Granada Theater in the form of comedians Ryan Stiles, Greg Proops, Joel Murray, and Jeff. B Davis performing skits and sketches in the style of Whose Line Is It Anyway? Everything presented on stage that evening was entirely off-the-cuff and based on spontaneous audience suggestions, much like when a student sees a midterm essay prompt for the first time.
On a night when many of the audience members could definitely use a laugh, the comedians obliged with a variety of scenes based on suggestions called out to them, sometimes even incorporating audience volunteers into the scenes. Every clever quip and quick-thinking moment was met with peals of laughter at both the sheer hilarity of situations, such as ‘department store Kabuki theater,’ and the adaptability of the performers.
Some of their games were scored by musical accompaniment, and others incorporated volunteer participants. Davis serenaded one bashful audience member with a ballad about her life to the style of Los Lobos, a favorite band of hers. Another game made two women responsible for the sound effects in the scene, and as Stiles and Murray performed as knife juggling acrobats, laughs and strange noises abounded.
As the volunteers and audience soon learned, the funniest moments in improvised comedy come not from trying to force a joke but by working with your partner to create natural comedy. When in doubt, a sly sex joke never goes unnoticed, especially in a college community.
The evening was not without its subtle, and a few more overt, digs at recent politics, but overall the performers endeavored to lift the uneasy air of the past day with good, clean humor and non-offensive jokes playing at salient slogans such as “love trumps hate” and “don’t boo, vote.”
My personal favorite sketch of the evening left many dialogue choices in the hands of audience members who had written simple quotes or famous movie lines down on slips of paper at the start of the show. These were collected and given to performers Stiles and Davis to use periodically throughout a scene from an original soap opera based on the suggestion “Life in the Hills.”
As one performer bent over and implored the other to read his new lower back tattoo, the randomly chosen paper read, “Feed me a watermelon,” and the audience erupted into laughter as Stiles was forced to explain the symbolism of this offbeat tattoo to his scene partner. Somehow, they managed to tie the supplied quote into the storyline and the scene continued without missing a beat.
Much of the beauty in improvised comedy is that the scenes made up that night will never be performed or seen again, creating a true sense of “you had to be there” that the entire audience gets to share. And while it might get difficult to remember the exact jokes, or what outrageous suggestion served as inspiration, the joy and laughter expressed in the theater remains as a comfort. It attests to the strength of the performers that even in this fast-paced world, they can create something wonderful out of nothing.
It doesn’t matter Whose Line it is – all that matters is who’s laughing. Lucky for the Granada Theater audience, we got the last laugh.