One recent night on East Main Street, I mushed a team of talking sled dogs. I sprayed Silly String at a few dozen people, got experimented on by a mad scientist and urged a troubled young man to gulp fistfuls of pills and wash them down with Red Bull.
My husband wasn’t a bit surprised to hear it. “Sounds great, hon,” he mumbled, then turned back to his pillow. It was 1 a.m., after all.
How, I began to wonder, had life come to this? Not just for me, but for scores of other Rochesterians who can’t get enough of doing comedy improvisation? Thirteen years ago, our city had no improv to speak of. Now, at least 20 troupes — large and small — perform so often that on many weekends, seven or eight shows are in full swing.
Among us improvisers are scientists and schoolteachers, engineers and financiers, housewives, programmers, students, therapists.
How did improv comedy grow so much? To an extent, Rochester is just one of many cities to get hooked.
In 1998, the U.S. version of a British improv show called Whose Line Is It Anyway? began the first of eight seasons. Suddenly, millions of Americans were discovering an art form that had been little known outside major cities. And they loved it. Here were actors getting prompts from the studio audience or from the host, and creating hilarious scenes and songs on the spot. No time to confer. No time to rehearse. It looked like tons of fun — and hams all over the country wanted in.
Cue a mushrooming of improv classes and troupes, from Amarillo, Texas, to Zanesville, Ohio. Some specialized in so-called “short form” — funny, unrelated scenes like those on Whose Line. Others focused on “long form,” which typically involves interwoven scenes, some of which lay the groundwork for later laughs rather than being a hoot in and of themselves.
Still, not every city got the jones for improv. And many places — Buffalo and Syracuse, for instance — have less improv for their size than Rochester. So why here? For one thing, improvisers say, it helps to be in an artsy town.
Last Modified: 3:08pm 31 Aug 12