Friday, June 15, 2012

Miracle workers: Scott Adsit and friends improvise at iO

Posted By on 06.15.12 at 12:42 PM

Present at the creation: Scott Adsit
  • Present at the creation: Scott Adsit
There's a great load of mystique surrounding improvisation. The long-form version in particular has its legends and its saints, its temples, commandments, and arcana based on the magic of spontaneous creation. Sometimes you've got to wonder whether that's all just spin to keep the pews filled and the workshops running, the way it is in any religion. But then somebody goes and delivers a miracle.

I saw a miracle or two last night at iO, where a group led by Scott Adsit contributed an evening of long-form improv to the TBS Just for Laughs comedy festival.

Gainfully employed now as a star of NBC's 30 Rock, Adsit used to play at both iO and the Second City. He was joined in the show I saw by fellow Chicago improvisers-turned-TV-entertainers Jon Glaser and Kevin Dorff. But there would've been no sacred event without the participation of Dave Pasquesi and T.J. Jagodowski, a prodigious pair who remain based in Chicago and perform together in a celebrated weekly late-night show called T.J. & Dave.

Last night's odyssey started as simply as could be, with Pasquesi standing maybe 15 feet from Glaser and grinning amiably at him. Joined by a buddy (Adsit), Glaser confided that he was creeped out because the grinning had been going on for a full 30 minutes. The setting, it developed, was a bar, and Pasquesi was just a nice-guy conventioneer with a tendency to grin amiably at people. The scene soon split focus as Pasquesi got into bar talk with Adsit, and Glaser struck up a conversation with Jagodowski. We heard snippets from each pair in nicely orchestrated turns. This one was in bike sales, that one bred dogs. There was some patter about the Bible. Pasquesi was in mourning because his wife had "burned down."

The miracles followed as Adsit, Dorff, Glaser, Jagodowski, and Pasquesi took the ideas generated by that initial scene and teased them out into characters, settings, stories, issues, and more ideas that ultimately formed a narrative—or, maybe more accurately, a ramble—at once dense and loose, associative and logical, bizarre and utterly natural.

I'd love to be able to trace the trajectory of each and every thread for you, because that's where the miracles were. The reference to bikes, for instance, translated into Pasquesi trying to buy one from Dorff, who refused on principle to provide a wider seat, which sent Pasquesi to Jagodowski's tortured Italian bicycle-seat artisan, who hadn't built a seat in 20 years because the last one nearly drove him mad. The Biblical references evolved into Jagodowski playing a nut who put little wooden crosses on his neighbor's property, concealing his identity by leaving size 15 shoe prints at the scene of the crime. The nut went to a shoe store to buy six pairs of size 15 shoes, which made the salesman (Glaser) a star in the eyes of his boss (Pasquesi) and incited a bidding war between the boss and his chief competitor (Dorff) for the salesman's services. When it became obvious that the salesman would never sell another pair of size 15 shoes again, the thread became a magnificent parable about the perils of good luck.

And that was only the first 45 minutes or so. After a break the group returned with a more surreal set of inventions, including a macabre, funny, yet strangely touching bit featuring Adsit as an adolescent boy dropped off at a fat camp by his father. Jagodowski was once again brilliant as the kid's bunkmate, who'd been at the camp for 17 years. Adsit then returned to justify his star status by playing the best talking ocelot/cougar mix I've ever seen.

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