On a recent Saturday, as the rain was drilling down across Berkeley, East Bay Improv was
buys taking a Live Oak Theater crowd of over 140 to hilarity in a hand basket. And what's
more, the humor was on the house. Gratis. As free as the associations made up and down the
stage for the entirety of the night.
"Sometimes it's useful to heap verbal abuse on someone,"
Director/Performer Dave Patterson
announced from the edge of the stage to rouse the audience, a state they maintained
throughout the show. Taking full advantage of improv comedy's inherent freneticism, the
five-person group hitched up their pants and plowed through a slew of scenes depicting
samurai home-owners, salacious priests with pitch-perfect Groucho asides, Cocknet-accented
punk rock psychiatrists, and Q&A sessions with God during which the deity is addressed as
"Dude... I mean God." Not to mention a three-headed monster serenading an audience
member who introduced herself as an illustrator specializing in drawing dead animals. The
wistful finale of the skit features three cast members plaintively crooning one word at a time,
as only a romantic three headed-monster can, "I love you like a dead animal." Damn near
made me choke up.
When a sketch petered out and the jokes ran dry, the group
waited only long enough for one
more quip before granting themselves bad comedy clemency and signaled, with a windmill
sweep of an arm, for the lights to dim and the skit to end. Other times, the scenes barely began
when-BAM a 700-watt one-liner ripped into the audience and shut the skit down at the apex.
When given the noun "emergency power saw" by an audience member, player Leila
Ben-Joseph launched into an emotionally charged confrontation with a squirrel. Not one to
take any lip from an invisible squirrel, she gesticulated wildly, making a series of lunges in the
general direction of the non-existent rodent before firing up the emergency power saw (this
clearly being an emergency) and hacked away, all the while inquiring of the squirrel "Who's
your daddy now? Who's your daddy now? Huh? Huh?!!" Lights out again.
But lets not go getting the idea that East Bay Improv
is all namby-pamby, puerile,
squirrel-threatening folly. High concept humor made an appearance when the group wheeled
in the theories of the utterly whacked French dramatist Georges Polti, who in 1868 declared
that all human drama could be reduced to 36 situations.
It all seemed to go over well enough, but then that is
the Immaculate Gimmick of improv- the
audience has a vested interest in the show (they provide the nouns and scenarios) and often
come lubed for laughs. (During intermission a child asked her mom if she could buy her a
drink, to which the improv-intoxicated mom replied with vintage Elaine May elan, "No, but
you can lick my umbrella.")
Bonus about East Bay Improv: A family-style warmth can
be sensed, a stray actor's arm from
time to time making its way around another actor's shoulder, even a restive, mutual lean into
each other. And the same went for the people in the seats, many of whom spoke proudly of
taking part in the group's "fully comprehensive improv training program."
Kids in the crowd; a San Francisco Mime Troupe T-shirt
somewhere back in the seats;
friends here and there; some cold rain outside; some warm jokes on the interior: ironic
distance, at least for awhile, seemed refreshingly distant.