Improv Stand-up | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Improv Stand-up 

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Improv Stand-up, Know Laughing Matter, at Strawdog Theatre Company. The line between stand-up routine, improv aside, and performance-art soliloquy is so thin some scientists doubt its existence. Fact is, the solo harangue almost always involves all three techniques, though generally one aspect dominates or the context is decisive. Narrative, illustrative, and expository monologues are the bread and butter of most long-form improv, and the extended extemporaneous rant--from which the rest of the troupe extrapolates--is a well-established opening and framing device. So from the get-go Improv Stand-up, which seeks to reconcile these allegedly estranged disciplines, rolls on reinvented wheels.

On the night I attended, the redundant concept was matched by a copycat structure. Hurry-up five-man improvisations, sandwiched between slices of stand-up shtick, simply recapped the comedians' bits. Unfortunately the performances were no better, exhibiting all the hallmarks of half-baked improv: gratuitous, wildly wavering, frequently unrecognizable accents; half-coherent tack after half-coherent tack abandoned halfway through; more talking than listening, etc. Granted, the stand-ups didn't give the players much to work with: mining the ubiquitous "affectionate mockery of one's background" vein, one reminisced about southern roots, another about Texan roots. But even given richer material or sharper scene work, I suspect this slapped-together stuff would remain pointless.

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