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Making it up as they grow

More days, more shows, more troupes represented; it's the L.A. Improv Festival.

June 03, 2004|Adam Tschorn | Special to The Times

If all goes according to plan, the second annual Los Angeles Improv Festival, which kicks off Sunday evening, will be four days longer, three venues stronger and 58 shows funnier than it was the first time around.

Organizers of the event, which in its first year drew a couple of thousand people and a handful of acts over three days, say they're prepared for more than 5,000 attendees at four theaters to take in more than 85 performances over the course of a week. "This year we've really expanded," said James Grace, artistic director of the ImprovOlympic West Theater, which is again hosting the event. "We have groups from Seattle, San Francisco, Minnesota, New York, Chicago, New Orleans, the Philippines, Toronto and all over Southern California."

The diversity isn't solely geographical. Grace says that this year's acts -- which include some non-improvised sketch comedy -- were chosen to dish up more than just traditional improv. "We have some bizarre, out-there kind of stuff," he says, citing acts like Pimprov (a Chicago-based quintet that improvises in pimp mode -- right down to the floppy hats and flashy neck chains) and a hybrid called New and Improv-ed Standup.

This year's expanded festival will also showcase many more of the best shows from around town, including the unabashed Bush-bashing of sketch troupe Big News, the French-tweaking "Le Comedie du Bicyclette," the Groundlings' "Crazy Uncle Joe Show," "Totally Looped" at Second City (which puts new dialogue over old movies) and Jeff Garlin's "Combo Platter," in which performers start with an audience suggestion and improvise their stand-up-style material off one another.

Out-of-the-curve and off-the-cuff comedy is only the tip of the iceberg; the festival includes workshops ranging from how to improvise Shakespeare to marketing advice from an NBC casting director.

On the final day of the festival, Hollywood Reporter editorial director Paula Parisi will host a Q&A forum on the state of improvisational comedy. It's designed to, as Grace puts it, "give people a chance to pick the brains of some of today's working improvisers." Scheduled panelists include Mo Collins, Stephnie Weir (both from "Mad TV") and Andy Dick ("Less Than Perfect").

"The huge advantage we have is that celebrities are here already," Grace says. "And the industry is here already, so why should they have to go to Aspen or Montreal [comedy festivals] when they can just get in a car and come down and see the very best of all that stuff?"

Though the roster is not final, others performing include Amy Poehler ("SNL"), Neil Flynn ("Scrubs"), Andy Richter ("New York Minute"), Edie McClurg ("Ferris Bueller's Day Off"), Laura Kightlinger ("Daddy Day Care"), Billy West (who voices characters on "The Ren & Stimpy Show" and "Futurama") and Jeff Garlin ("Curb Your Enthusiasm").

A percentage of all performance and workshop ticket sales will go to Project Angel Food; last year the festival donated nearly $5,000 to the charity, which provides daily meals to people homebound by the effects of HIV/AIDS, Grace says.

On the last day of the festival, Shelley Berman -- who has been performing improv comedy since it crawled out from the primordial ooze of Chicago's theater scene in the early 1950s -- will receive the Del Close Advancement of Improvisation Lifetime Achievement Award at the ImprovOlympic West. Then he'll take the stage as part of "The Armando Show," which intercuts between celebrity monologues and improvised group scenes.

"We definitely wanted to honor him, he's a legend," Grace says. "When you have a chance to acknowledge someone when they're not only able to be there, but to perform as well, that's unbelievable."

Berman jokes: "I don't know whether it's a lifetime achievement or if maybe I'm the oldest one who's doing it."


Los Angeles Improv Comedy Festival

Where: Acme Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Bang., 457 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; ImprovOlympic West Theater, 6366 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; and Second City, 8156 Melrose Ave., L.A.

When: Sunday to June 13

Cost: $10 to $15 per performance; $30 per workshop

Info: For tickets, (323) 962-7560 or For schedule,



Five to see live

If you don't have a solid week to waste watching wall-to-wall wackiness, the five shows below are on track to be among the best. All are at the ImprovOlympic Theater.

'All New and Improv-ed Standup'

Tuesday, 9 p.m.

Combining the spontaneity of improv with the five-minute set structure of stand-up, this is the perfect show for anyone sick of listening to the traditional rants about airline peanuts or dating disasters. An audience suggestion lights the fuse, and performers take the stage one by one to mine it for comic gold. Hosted by A.J. Tesler.


Wednesday, 8 p.m.

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