ACME and Improv

ACME and Improv

What does Joe recall?

Comedy is a cruel taskmaster.
Death by audience suggestion.

It’s helpful in improv comedy to be a writer/performer because you often have to create some exit from whatever situation you’ve gotten yourself into. I volunteered when the audience suggestion was Winnie-the-Pooh and a gas station. Comedy gold was not mined that night but call it brave, call it crazy, call it public humiliation all for a little attention, but I’m “game”. Improv comedy is all about “yes, and”…accepting what’s given no matter what. Being quick on your feet can be an asset, especially when it comes to outrunning an angry crowd.

I recall several real moments of improv during my time with ACME Harpoon Co. Coincidentally, they all involve me.  It’s not that nobody else had any. There were plenty. But the point is that it helped me when creating real characters, which were the source of the laughs, not just going for punch lines. But, trust me, punch lines get you off stage with some dignity and perhaps admiration – leave ‘em laughing.

During the run in Montreal, members of the troupe all stayed together in the second floor of a duplex in Outremont from Tuesday through Saturday. We left immediately after the last show ended – sometime after midnight – and I drove everybody home back to Toronto. At the time, I drove a 1975 Pontiac Laurentian. It is a highway car – a power chesterfield. Bench seats front and back and V-8 engine. It became apparent that the car knew its way back. There were long stretches on the mostly flat, mostly straight 401 aka the Transcontinental Highway that slipped away into the night. I’d think I was coming up to Kingston and the sign would say Belleville. I was Driving Under the Influence of Being a Starving Artist in Canada – a DUI-BSAC. The statute of limitations has expired so I think I’m good on this now. But I digress…

We wrote and performed our own series of radio spots to promote the show at Le Méridien Hotel. In this radio spot, I was the “lead voice” (Is anyone surprised why I chose to highlight this one?). Being a Starving Artist, I contracted some form of lung affliction (it seems so common to call it just a Common Cold – afflictions are what starving artists suffer – much more dramatic). As a result, my voice sounds a lot more bass than usual – I believe they call it “gravitas” in the voice biz. The scary Halloween bit is because we were there in October. Timing is everything in comedy.

The voice in the tag is, Deborah Jarvis, and God love her for that pronunciation on “sumptuous Sunday brunch” that we teased her mercilessly about forever after. I don’t know…if I could get a girl to put that much sauce on her “s’s”…but, again, I digress.

Sadly, Deborah has passed on…a loss to the world of comedy but Heaven’s gain.

And now for your listening pleasure…

a red car drives along a dark highway

An improv game based on audience suggestions of object and emotion – vibrator and suspicious were given.
I was seated.
My partner was standing.
Opening line:
What have you done with my wife’s vibrator?
My reply:
You’ll never get it out of me!
The audience exploded.
Then we realized what I just said.
Our stage manager left the lights up long enough for us to offer written apologies after the show.
An improvised scene with me as a marriage counselor to a couple.

For reasons known only to the owner of the Bavarian Inn, his Husky was tethered outside of a fire exit door that was directly in line with the stage.
The scene was progressing nicely and then the Husky started howling loud enough for the whole room to hear it.
Without hesitation or breaking character I said,
“Oh, they’re doing Primal Therapy next door”.
The audience laughed so hard they needed oxygen.
It seems there were a few self-help aficionados in the crowd. Drawing on my previous years of experience in the mental health field had served me well. Thanks Psychology!
1 Trois
An improvised scene based on audience suggestion of
“Dr. Dolittle”.
I played an erudite Brit professor who had developed a technique that could teach inanimate objects to speak.
I was asked for a demonstration and I led the interviewer through the technique, which culminated with him rubbing his chair’s leg. When not a sound was emitted, I exclaimed,

“Just my luck - a deaf mute.”
It was plausible and unexpected -
that’s why it was funny.
If you set up an expectation, surprising the audience is always good. Nobody was more surprised than me when I came up with that line. Exit, stage left.
1 Cat
Taking audience suggestions
before improv set.
ACME was doing a run at the Meredien Hotel in Montréal so the audience was bilingual.

Book titles were requested. Someone called out what sounded very much like
“Le Chien Dans Le Lou”.
I had no idea. I replied,

“Oh yes, Dog in the Toilet”,
complete with dismissive French hand wave gesture.
The crowd went wild!
I’ve been simultaneously funny in both National languages. Can Sir John A. MacDonald make the same claim?
No brag, just fact.
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