Improv is hard. Think if you’ve ever genuinely amused anyone who told you to “say something funny.” Well, improv is a group of people being told to “act something funny” about a random topic that they don’t even get to choose. This is why people take classes. It’s a constant balancing act—the scene won’t always be funny, and one has to know how to quickly salvage it when it turns stale. The stakes of the form are uncommonly high. There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as good improv, on the other hand, there’s nothing quite as unbearable as bad improv. It’s like watching someone repeatedly fail a magic trick.
With that said, Without A Box performed a funny and energetic show last Friday night at Doms Lounge. Their first game—starring Asa Erlendson PZ ’11, Katie Lyman PZ ’12, and Kathryn Mgrublian CMC ’11—involved the spontaneous conception and subsequent performance of a musical, based on audience suggestions for titles. “Pink Fuzzy Bunny and the Seventeen Angry Wolves” won out over “Lease” and “Rhinoplasty!: The Musical.” The performance was funny, but dragged a little, though its rough patches were frequently saved by the off-the-cuff keyboard songwriting of Scott Jespersen PO ’12.
After that was the game “Good, Bad, and Ugly,” in which three performers (Avery Bargar PZ ’12, Mgrublian, and Ben Tumin PO ’12) each gave respectively good, bad, and ugly answers to queries from the crowd. This kind of improv is even more difficult, as the performers each have to be funny by themselves for an extended period of time. The burden of entertainment falls entirely on them; it is alarmingly easy to slip into aimless, unfunny rambling. The performers did well, mostly, and were at their best when they riffed on their own erroneous leaps of logic—an effective form of self-consciousness that didn’t necessitate the breaking of their character.
After that was their always-popular “Cabaret,” in which everyone dry humped each other and delivered salacious couplets about a topic of the audience’s choosing; this time, sports. They closed the show with their long-form game, in which they performed a rapid-fire succession of scenes that spiraled off in subject matter from the initial audience prompt (pterodactyls). Long-form offers an easy way to save the inevitable stale scene, as the improvisers simply interrupt the old scene to start the new one. Without A Box didn’t let most scenes drag to the point of exponentially diminishing returns on the initial premise, which can be a frequent trap in comedy. Some highlights: Erlendson’s bear impression and Tumin’s recurring character of a cruel, slave-driving girl scout leader.
All in all, Without A Box gave a consistently solid show that never spiraled down to plodding, painful repetitiveness, as any improv show is always precariously in danger of doing. It was a deft demonstration of a difficult art form, and—above all—it was successfully funny.