Imagine the devil chasing George W. Bush through a silent movie.
As a writer, I’d tackle this assignment by first considering the genre, setting, characters, tone and plot — and then I’d carefully produce a detailed, expository description of my vision.
But local improvisational-comedy group the Oxy Morons doesn’t have that luxury.
In a genre where missing a beat can mean killing a scene, improvisers must trust themselves, said Carrie Howard, the group’s co-founder, in a recent interview.
“If you trust yourself,” he elaborates, “the words will come as you figure out who you are, where you are and what you’re doing.”
Improv is theater without a script and comedy without a laugh track — and it’s as unpredictable as a goat with its horns on fire. Obviously, spontaneity is the lifeblood of this type of acting. And in the case of the Oxy Morons, skits are mostly dictated by audience suggestion, making each performance an entirely distinct event.
Improv is generally better loved by the common man than the cultured critic; it can be boisterous and crude, with the line separating performer and spectator often blurred.
Which is where drinking a little beer comes in.
Howard and her husband, Jon, along with group members Jason Adams and Erik Maddox, will tell you that the college-crowd-geared Artists’ Resource Center is an ideal venue — so much so that the Oxy Morons recently presented their 100th show there.
And it’s perfect in part because at the adjoining Jester’s Cafe, cheap beer flows in abundance.
At first, drinking merely helped actors ease their stage jitters. Now a few brews just make the experience a bit more fun (and, for that matter, a little more raunchy — the deeply conservative should probably steer clear of the Oxy Morons).
But the local troupe has a lot more to offer than dirty jokes. Improv, they insist, is a true art form that requires creativity, quick wit and a knack for narrative — all 11-odd members are also actors who do stage productions with the ARC and other local companies.
But this bunch is afraid to laugh at themselves — improv, they’re quick to agree, is kind of like the pro-wrestling of theater.
“The only difference is that they’re scripted and we’re not!” points out Maddox.
Strangely enough, one of the venues that’s helped popularize improv in the past decade is TV — a medium commonly considered the antithesis of theater. The long-running Whose Line Is It Anyway? even features a choice of hosts, Drew Carey or British-lawyer-turned-comedy-writer Clive Anderson. (“The British show was better!” quips Adams.)
The Oxy Morons have borrowed a few Whose Line charades, including “The Dating Game,” where one player tries to guess the character type of potential dates (something the audience already knows).
And like Whose Line, which prominently features improvisers Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie and Wayne Brady, many Oxy Morons performances are dominated by men.
So are guys just more predisposed to improv?
No, declares Jon Howard.
“Because there’s three regulars on [Who’s Line who are male], it’s hard for anyone else to come in there, male or female,” he says.
“Those three [actors] have such good chemistry,” his wife adds. “It would be intimidating up there with them.”
That said, Carrie Howard continues, the male/female ratio in the Oxy Morons is about 50/50. (I must have seen them on testosterone night.)
Gender aside, Maddox notes that a successful improv-comedy performer is someone who reads a lot and is “just generally knowledgeable about the world.”
So quick: What does a writer laughing her ass off at gay scuba divers look like?
The answer: Me at a recent Oxy Morons performance at UNCA.
But minus the restrictions faced by being on campus — and fortified with a couple $1 Pabsts — this group can get a lot rawer still.
What do you look like watching three missionaries talking in the bathroom at the JROTC prom?
The Oxy Morons perform every Tuesday night at 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. at the Artists’ Resource Center (45 Wall St.). Donations are accepted. Call 252-8806 for more information.