The Phoenix Improv Festival, produced by The Torch Theatre, wrapped up its three-day celebration of improv on Sunday at the Herberger Theater Center with a showcase focused on Arizona improv groups. The first four groups of the showcase that I witnessed displayed a diverse range of humorous skills that stimulated the “ha-ha-ha!” region of my brain.
Not Burnt Out Just Unscrewed
Any individual or group of individuals that makes jokes about Nickelback is okay by me. That’s how Not Burnt Out Just Unscrewed kicked off the showcase. I liked them already. During their performance, NBOJU was versatile, precise and crafty. I have to say, Monica Rhodes’ comedic performance stood out to me. The characters and corresponding nuances she conveyed throughout had me laughing every time she was on stage.
But the entire group made me laugh, too, and they shared an enjoyable chemistry on stage. They remixed the mundane Jeff Foxworthy ‘You Might Be A Redneck’ joke and made it funny by substituting classifications such as rocket scientist and scrapbooker. A particularly humorous and apropos joke came when the group was playing characters from the Old West:
Monica Rhodes – “You against violence? I got a right to bear arms!”
Cris Candelario – “Oh. You must be from Arizona.”
On the surface, the humor of Salmon Shane was similar to the comedy programming on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim lineup. It was rapid-fire and irreverent. Each skit within the duo’s performance conveyed energy, often shifting from impromptu microskit to impromptu microskit without notice.
Nonetheless, each segment shared common characters and situations, and by the end of Salmon Shane’s set, all of the jokes came full circle. Their performance was quick-witted, risqué and crisp. This was one of Salmon Shane’s sharp, irreverent improv exchanges:
Shane – “I think I upset Rachel last night.”
Sam – “Well, you are an asshole.”
Shane – “I slapped her. With my fist. In all fairness, she did kick me in my nut. I only have one.”
Die, Puppet, Die!
I was pretty certain that Jeff Dunham ruined puppet comedy for me. For. Ev. Ar. Forever. The “Die, Puppet, Die!” duo of Stacey Gordon and Mack Duncan didn’t help my opinion of Dunham because, well, they were actually funny. Both performers commanded the stage and attention of the audience as if they were theatre actors.
Their hand puppet improv performance was creative and energetic. Mack Duncan bounced around the stage and throughout the audience and Stacey Gordon spoke with charisma. Imagine, if you will, the tale of Little Red Riding Hood — with the wolf and riding hood as hand puppets who are communicating over email.
Little Red Riding Emailing Hood – “Hi Grandma, what big I’s you have…capitalized.”
The Wolf – “Whatever you do, don’t Skype with me.”
Hailing from Casa Grande, EXiT 185 played up the small-town stereotypes in a funny call-in radio show improv parody. Another standout skit involved a poet reciting a poem in an indecipherable foreign tongue while having simultaneously having it translated into both English and a hilarious and energetic interpretational dance.
One creative improv skit involved a female character with a split personality. Two female performers saddled up, back-to-back, and played the character together. My meek description doesn’t do the bit comedic justice. Much like Not Burnt Out Just Unscrewed, EXiT 185 exhibited a good chemistry and energy throughout their performance.
Overall, the improv showcase was a hilarious, irreverent piece that encompassed the spirit of the Phoenix Improv Festival. The laughs and entertainment were a great way to spend a Sunday.