Have too many students showcases ruined NYC Improv Audiences?

In the stand-up comedy world, we ask this all the time. So many folks get dragged to watch friends and family perform that all NYC Comedy shows get a rap for being amateur showcases. Clubs rely on these “Bringer” shows to pay the bills on slower nights and earlier times.

So I ask you, have the extreme number of cheap and free shows in NYC spoiled the taste for Improv in the average potential audience member at professional shows?

Improv players have followed the Stand-Up Comedy lead –  if you cannot get stage time, go find a space and do a show. As a result there are over 200 rooms in the city that call themselves home to comedy in one form or another, while maybe 10 are home to truly professional shows.

I know when I first got to the city, as a young actor with some professional credits, I was asked to come to a few shows to see friends perform. They were terrible. My friends were OK I suppose, but a two hour show of amateurs – helping a mediocre producing comic pay his or her bills – was too much to handle. I had a bad taste in my mouth and assumed this was the state of all comedy in New York City, with zero resemblance to the star-driven specials I watch on TV/Video.

In 2002 I started producing my own Improv shows. By 2004, we were selling out 6-8 weeks at the NY Improv (Which became the Broadway Comedy Club on 53rd, once again our current home). We were barking in a crowd but slowly built our reputation and started getting group sales and eventually a real following. We are asked to perform at private events and colleges. We did not do much marketing. Folks saw our show and offered to hire us.
improv comedy

I got to know some real professional comics and fell in love with LIVE stand-up comedy, which, in my opinion, is far better than any DVD or TV Special on Comedy Central, HBO or Showtime.

At the time, NYC had UCB, The PIT and the Magnet Theater. There were a couple others in town. As far I could tell only one other show was paying its performs, and that show has slowly faded away.

As the Improv factories continued to kick out 1000s of students, there suddenly were 1000s looking for stage time. Many auditioned for me but few were qualified for a paying gig in Improv. I still prefer professionally trained musical theater performers which are far more entertaining and interesting to watch on stage. Improv is a big part of all acting training, so teaching the Improv rules to real actors is far easier than trying to teach a so-called “Improv Comic” how to actually perform on stage at a professional level.

Now there are bars and black box theaters all over the city. In many ways, unpaid Improv Showcases have replaced the one acts and short play festivals for out of work actors. Makes sense, you get unpaid stage time with out the hours and hours of unpaid rehearsals.

These shows depend on friends and family dropping by, or not. It must be great to be able to perform for other artists all the time. Sometimes I miss that college experience, but these days like to pay rent with my talents.

The result has been a devaluing of Improv. The greater public sees it as an amateurish entertainment, or simply a hopeful gateway on to Saturday Night Live and Comedy Central sit-coms. It is getting harder and harder to convince folks that Improv can be a professional performance worthy of real ticket prices than can pay artists.

I have said for 20 years, “The best and the worst of any art form exists in Manhattan”. Finding the good stuff is getting harder and harder.

What am I saying?
What do I want?

I am not simply complaining here. What I want is for everyone to rediscover Improv the way I rediscovered stand-up comedy. While there are many amateur and student showcases, there are truly professional shows in town worthy of real theater ticket prices. We have 2-4 every week in between performing for corporate events, colleges, and even K-12 outreach. If you have been dragged to too many shows performed by friends please now that their are great options.

I realize 90% of the “Improv” world prefers what happens in the basements of bars and showcase theaters. They can perform without worrying about filling seats (audience) or paying rent, because they have day jobs as accountants, lawyers and waiters.

However 90% of the rest of the world prefers a real show that just happens to be Improvised.

We have often had reviewers on yelp say we are scripted because there was no way we could come up with the comedy and stories on the spot that are better than most scripted shows off-Broadway (and some on Broadway). While meant as a slight, I take as a compliment. My cast is that great! And I say this out of pride, not ego. I have been blessed to surround myself with amazing talent for 14+ years now. We are completely Improvised and compared to so much short form Improv, far less cheesy.

I was not raised in Improv. I am a classically trained actor and singer. As a result I surround myself with the same. And we deliver a show that is meant to compete with professional off-Broadway, not off-off showcases.

But don’t take my word for it. RSVP for free tickets. If you love us you will return time and time again like our regulars and clients we have had for 10+ years. If inspired you may even take a class. If not your thing no worries. You had some drinks and a evening’s diversion.



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