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They make up stuff and get honored?

June 02, 2005

If you hear people howling near Hollywood Boulevard next week, don't panic. It's just the hilarity that should erupt when comedians converge for the third annual Los Angeles Improv Comedy Festival.

For a week starting Sunday, improvisational comedians from stage and screen will perform, teach and stop by for a while to honor contributions to the art of being funny on the spot.

"This year the majority of the groups are from Los Angeles, and these are people who headline around the country," says James Grace, executive director of the festival. Featured acts include Beer Shark Mice, Mission Improvable, Lloyd Dobbler's Boombox and reunions of casts from "Saturday Night Live," "MADtv" and Second City.

It wasn't so long ago that improv was more of a tool than an art form in its own right. That's partly why the group has created awards in honor of the late Del Close, the performer, teacher and director who is said to be the first to consider improv a legitimate and teachable art form. On June 11, Martin Mull will present Fred Willard ("A Mighty Wind," "Best in Show") with the Del Close Lifetime Achievement Award.

"I'm honored, but it makes you feel like, 'Thanks, your career is over. Now you can start a ranch in Idaho,' " Willard said from his home in Encino. Willard never studied improv, though he said that 98% of his dialogue in the Christopher Guest movies was improvised. He also co-founded the improv group Ace Trucking Company and performed with the troupes the Committee and Second City.

On June 10, longtime Second City accompanist Fred Kaz will receive the Del Close Advancement of Improv Award, and no doubt will play a tune.

Though the festival offers audiences a chance to see performances by top troupes, aspiring improv artists can attend workshops that fine-tune skills for auditioning, musical improvisation and more.

According to Grace, improv is about learning "to work as a group onstage to make each other look the best that you can." Even if you're not a pro, that's a life lesson we'd all do well to learn.

-- Valli Herman

Third annual Los Angeles Improv Comedy

Festival, Sunday to June 11, ImprovOlympic West Theatre, 6366 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. $10 to $25 per performance (late shows free); $30 per workshop. www.iowest.com; (323) 962-7560.

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