In the minutes before UR’s student run improv comedy troupe In Between the Lines’ first show of the semester, Drama House was packed with students eager to laugh. I’ve heard that the best rooms for comedy are the worst fire hazards. With every seat taken and people standing in the back, IBTL couldn’t have asked for a better room.
The show occurred at the end of syllabus week, aptly titled Improv 101. In the beginning, one member came to the front of the room, in character as a professor, treating the audience like a class. Planted members of IBTL asked him funny questions, though they were all standing at the front of the room soon enough.
Their first game was a bit slow going, and not all that funny, but, luckily, they quickly moved on to a more successful one. Two performers started acting out a scene, and other performers on the sides would clap when they wanted to replace one of them with a new idea. This put their creativity on display, and the audience loved it.
They moved on to a full story arc taking place in an arcade. Their antics included a segment about a ticket-muncher that was quite clever. Randomly assigned scenes like these helped me understand just how difficult improv is; I give major props to the performers.
At various points throughout the show, the “professor” would return to the front and ask the audience for a topic. The other members would ask silly questions, with topics ranging from the French Revolution to Bitcoin. These bits served as transitions, and kept the show grounded. Most improv shows neglect to do this, so I really appreciated IBTL’s effort to stick to the theme.
The next two games didn’t provide all that many laughs, and the show started to drag a bit. Improv is difficult, and not every act works, but IBTL was far from done, and the best had yet to come.
The best improv shows include lots of audience participation, and IBTL’s next game had a healthy dose. They took the question, “What happens to those wacky movie characters we see once and never again?” and gave us an answer. So began a ridiculous tale of half-human, half-animal creatures and mad scientists, with the audience voting on which characters to follow. The story was a bit too nonsensical to relay in full, but I assure you it was hilarious and the audience absolutely ate it up.
Ending there would’ve been acceptable, but IBTL’s finale was easily my favorite part of the show. It was a game called “Sounds Like a Song to Me,” centered around a skating competition. At certain points of the sketch, an IBTL member sitting at the piano would say the title phrase and begin playing a song. The members in the scene then had to improvise the lyrics, and the results produced the biggest laughs of the night. It proved to be the perfect end to a great show with the entire audience singing along to the song, “The Russian Team sucks!”
All in all, it was an excellent experience, and I strongly encourage others to check out IBTL’s future shows. There were a couple of slow spots, but you have to bear in mind that improv is insanely difficult, and the high points of the show make you forget about those moments. With “Improv 101,” IBTL has effectively proved that they are one of the best things happening on campus.