Down in Front improv comedy group makes bad movies great

Photographer: Emily Mallis

I never thought I’d say this, but it’s hard to top a night that features bullet bras, exaggerated alpha male posturing, a highly questionable Swedish accent, a lot of yelling and dogs dressed as killer shrews.

You, too, can enjoy a night full of such delights, though the specifics will be different. But the yelling will always be a part of Down In Front’s second-Friday B-movie showings at the Midtown Cinema in Harrisburg.

The basic theory is this: A troupe of three or four comic actors improvise snarky commentary over a crappy B-movie – typically from the ’50s or ’60s – in the style of MST3K (that’s Mystery Science Theater 3000 – the iconic show that ran for 11 seasons from the late ’80s through the late ’90s). And everyone in the audience joins in. Everyone.

If you’re like me, and hate when someone talks over a movie and makes you miss some crucial five seconds of dialogue, don’t worry, you’ll soon get over that. Not just because these movies’ plots leave a lot to be desired, but also because the commentary— coming from all directions, not just the DIF actors—is much better than the script. In fact, the DIF members never script anything. The only preparation they do is to look up some trivia, check out message boards or occasionally pre-watch the feature.


“It’s a lot like stand-up, but it’s not quite stand-up either,” says Matt Golden, one of the regulars in the troupe’s rotation of panel members. “It’s just being funny and having fun.”

Jennie Adams – one of the founders of DIF, a former member of the TMI Improv Troupe and current performer and teacher at the Harrisburg Improv Theatre – says, “I love the feel of everyone sitting in a living room when you’re with your friends watching a dumb movie. I just love that atmosphere, reacting in the moment.”

She’s right. Even though I was a bit timid at first, I quickly started yelling my own commentary at the screen with the best of them, exclaiming in mock horror as the first character was devoured, feeding off of the jokes coming from the DIF gang’s mics and from nearby seatmates, and generally adding to the boisterous atmosphere.

I don’t have much to say specifically about the feature that played the night I attended – 1959’s The Killer Shrews – I’ll just say that, Ann’s bullet bra was really on point and as sharp as some of the lines the DIF cast hurled at the screen.

Check out the trailer for The Killer Shrews. See if you can come up with any good lines.

Some of the films are well-known cult classics, but many aren’t. To keep costs down, almost all of the films are in the public domain. But DIF will do a special showing of 1995’s Showgirls on November 13. Get ready for some Saved by the Bell jokes.

DIF got off to rough start with their first performance in the fall of 2013. They screened Little Shop of Horrors, which is too self-aware to be lampooned. The key, explains Golden, is to pick a movie that thinks it’s good.

“Ed Wood, for example, was dedicated to making (in his mind) serious, dramatic movies that were just ridiculously bad,” Golden says.

One of the hardest parts of doing DIF, says Stuart Landon, a founding member of DIF and current Director of Community Engagement at Midtown Cinema, is letting go of moments that have passed – great jokes that you simply couldn’t get in edgewise during the general hubbub.

“The scene partner is a train that is moving on,” says Landon.

If you’re feeling a little uncertain about joining in the fun, don’t be—it’s a very casual atmosphere, and you can participate as much or as little as you want. Plus, you can fall back on the classic social lubricant: beer from Zeroday Brewing Co. – the bar that conveniently shares the building with Midtown Cinema.

“It’s a BYOZ event, which means bring your own Zeroday, so you can come
back here to the brewpub, get a Crowler—a big-ass can—and take it in,” says Landon.

And no self-censoring is needed either—the crew rates their shows as PG-13ish or
soft R’s.

Down in Front got its name from the classic perturbed theatergoer’s exclamation, so have fun breaking those social rules when you attend your first show. The lure of old-fashioned camp topped with snark is too great to resist.

Down in Front’s B-movie improv screenings take place every second Friday at Midtown Cinema (250 Reily St., Harrisburg), but they are adding some extra screenings in October.

Upcoming shows: 

• September 11 – The Apple 
• October 9 – Manos: The Hands of Fate 
• October 23 – Scared to Death
• October 30 – Fiend Without a Face
• November 13 –


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