We at Fly are learning more and more about the improv scene in Central PA as it grows. Last month, we spoke to the Lancaster Improv Players ahead of their premiere show, and found that forcing funny isn’t what improv is all about, as well as other misnomers.
The Harrisburg Improv Theatre abides by those same guidelines, and owner Jake Compton expounded more on what exactly improvisational comedy is meant to accomplish.
Blayne Waterloo: Have you ever had to turn down an act?
Jake Compton: Most of our acts are “homegrown” students [who] complete classes and audition for spots on our “house teams.” We also specialize in long-form improvisational comedy as well as sketch comedy, so most stand-up requests are politely declined. We do occasionally book out-of-town sketch/improv teams. We’ve had them from NYC, Chicago, Atlanta, Philly and other places as well.
BW: What’s the most unusual show you’ve had?
JC: We had an improv duo called From Justin to Kelly that was a really intense, emotionally-charged style of improv. There were probably only 20 words spoken during the entire 25-minute show. At one point, there was a powerful moment where the one character speaking about someone in a military uniform tearfully said, “Everyone in uniform looks like Brian,” clearly alluding to a lost brother or friend. I was in the back of the theatre, loving the show, but I did wonder how someone who was there for the first time who was coming to see comedy were feeling about it.
BW: Is there a requisite time an act has to perform? Has there ever been a problem with that?
JC: All of our shows start at 5 after and wrap about 5 of. Never had a problem.
BW: What’s the funniest joke you’ve heard at the theater?
JC: Improv doesn’t work on jokes. Jokes step out of the reality of the scene to comment on what’s going on. Think Chris Farley as motivational speaker Matt Foley. His intensity and commitment to that character are what makes it hilarious. We have some incredible improvisers both from within and our guests, but describing a scene won’t do it justice. You’ll just think “I guess you had to be there,” and that’s in essence what I’m saying. You have to be here.
BW: Is there anything else you want people to know about Harrisburg Improv Theatre?
JC: People wanting to get involved or just check us out should take a class. Our classes are wildly popular, even for people with no long-term performance aspirations. Taking one is like building three hours of laughter into your week, every week for eight weeks, and giving yourself a dozen or so friends.