Improvisational comedy is an acquired taste. Mention improv to anyone, and his or her mind will most likely turn to Whose Line Is It Anyway?, ABC’s (and now, CW’s) show of silly and safe short-form games designed to keep middle America tuned in and laughing. Mention improv to someone who doesn’t like improv, and he or she will often point to Whose Line as the reason for his or her disdain.
Today, however, I’d like to point those who roll their eyes at improv in the direction of the latest episode of Matt Besser’s Improv 4 Humans, a long-running standout on the Earwolf network. Each week, Besser and a different group of improvisers tell stories, take questions and suggestions from fans on social media, watch YouTube videos and listen to music. Then, they improvise scenes based on the conversations, videos and songs.
This week, Besser and improvisers Paul F. Tompkins (I’ve written about him here), Eugene Cordero and Seth Morris (him, too) are joined by Grammy-nominated singer K.Flay to create scenes inspired by her songs “Giver,” “Blood in the Cut,” “High Enough” and “Hollywood Forever.”
Besser and company build comedy gold from words and phrases in K.Flay’s lyrics, turning a line about crying on the streets of San Francisco into an extended argument among gargoyles about whether the power to turn into stone is necessary. Cordero, Morris and Tompkins are all more than game to follow the weird flights of fancy introduced in any scene.
One of the key rules of improv is that you can never say “no” to what a fellow participant creates. However, Besser has an uncanny ability to bring conflict and challenge into his improv scenes that enhance the hilarity. He never breaks the “Yes, and” rule explicitly, but his willingness to be the combative player heightens the absurdity already introduced into a scenario.
Take, for example, his role as the proprietor of the Sexy Talk Café in the episode’s first scene. Admonishing Eugene Cordero’s character for not following the café’s one and only rule (that you must talk to others only about your past sexual encounters), he turns each conversation into a lecture on the art of storytelling. He sends Cordero off time and time again with advice on how to observe his own sexual experiences so that he can fit in at the café.
Then, just as the scene settles into a comfortable pattern, Besser lets out an exasperated sigh and tells Cordero to have sex with a wolf. This leap nearly breaks the performers into peals of laughter and sets up a new off-the-rails narrative line involves Cordero trolling pet stores looking for a perfect sexual partner.
Crass, yes, but Besser, Tompkins, Cordero and Morris are skilled enough to make what should be cringe-worthy laugh-out-loud funny, and very adept and taking a scene sideways into new, hilarious territory. This episode is a real treat.
A final warning: Once again, this is not safe for work or young ears. Also, be ready to explain to your co-workers why you keep erupting with laughter at your desk.
Trey Wydysh just wants everyone to love podcasts as much as he does. Like what you’ve read here today? Have a podcast recommendation you think he should check out? You can find Trey on Twitter. Help him find his next podcast obsession!
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