I’ve previously seen stand-up comedy at The Gotham Comedy Club in NYC, watched Lewis Black tear a stage apart at the Flynn Theater in Burlington, and watched my share of comedy specials on Comedy Central, but until last night I’ve never witnessed live improv comedy before. I’ve caught episodes of Whose Line is it Anyway? (available on Netflix) and Upright Citizens Brigade: ASSSSCT (really funny and streaming on Netflix, watch it now!) but nothing would’ve prepared me for the raw excitement of watching a live improv performance. It’s different watching from the safety of your home, with a television screen to protect you from the craziness happening on stage. These performers must be out of their minds or have balls of steel or maybe both to stand in front of a live audience without a script, with no way of rehearsing and without a safety net. But yet here they stand, battling a crowd of theater-goers that are shoveling entrees in their mouths and staring at their watches so they don’t miss their 8:40 showing of Horrible Bosses and they’re winning.
This is my first time watching the Chris & Matt Show and I’m not quite sure what to expect as the performers Chris Jarvis and Matt Wohl take the stage. In a flash, Jaclyn is taken away and led to the stage where she participates in one of their first games, categories, where we the audience name a category and the people picked to go on stage must name something in that category to remain alive. That’s right: if they freeze or repeat something already said we get to KILL them! Much like the Romans in the days of the coliseum, those on stage are gladiators and their lives hang in the balance of our very words... Okay, it’s not that crazy but you do have to think fast to stay alive and believe me folks it’s harder than it sounds to stand up in front of complete strangers and think on your feet (we’ll get to that in a minute). Chris competed against the players selected from the audience and Matt took category suggestions from audience members and the loved ones of the chosen victims. I spoke up quickly trying to give Jaclyn a category she was well versed in thanks to yours truly. Did you guess movies? Well, you’re wrong. The category I chose was BEER! (really is this you’re first time here? Did you not realize I primarily write about beer? Okay, I’m sorry, keep reading and thanks for coming, tell you’re friends!) Well, Jaclyn faired well against the competition. I would like to think it has something to do with my years of prepping her for this great victory (see Alcoholism can be a usefully tool) but in reality it only helped her through the first round, she had to win the rest herself. Oh, did I mention that she won? Well she did, she was the last man (or more correctly woman) standing (note to self, always marry a winner. It just feels better). And as soon as Jaclyn was done celebrating her victory I was dragged up on stage to play a game of columns (and no I’m not talking about the ’89 Tetris rip off).
In columns, me and another audience member stood on either side of Chris and Matt and they would tell a story (the premise or career to be chosen by the audience) and whenever Chris or Matt pointed at us we had to give them a missing piece of the story. For our scenario, Matt was being audited by Chris who was an IRS taxman. I know, nothing says comedy like the IRS, but like I previously mentioned it’s hard to come up with stuff on the spot and this is the career the audience came up with. While Chris and Matt started their story and pointed at us when it was time to fill in the blanks, we helped move the story along by saying the assets that Matt was hiding from the IRS were “stamps” that were worth “five dollars” and that he had a mini “bicycle.” Every time we were pointed at we had to think of something on the spot. At times it felt easy but as the story progressed and I had to think on my feet faster and faster I’ll admit I felt nervous. How nervous you may ask? Well previously in the story I had volunteered bicycle as one of my suggestions and now as the story wrapped I was on again. Matt was pretending to lift a heavy object up and pointed at me to fill in the blanks. I froze. In my mind I could hear the words bowling ball bouncing around and then that little voice that hides in the back said “that isn’t funny, try harder.” I continued to freeze. Seconds felt like minutes as all eyes were on me waiting to hear what brilliance would flow from my pursed lips. I felt like Ralphie from The Christmas Story when Santa Claus finally asks him what he wants for Christmas and for the life of him he can’t say “I want an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!” and he almost ends up with a football. This was my moment and I was blowing it. And then out of nowhere I could feel my jaw muscles engage and I could hear a voice that very much sounded like my own voice say “bicycle.” Bicycle! I said bicycle again! I had froze like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming truck and spit out the very same idea I had said not two minutes before. I was mortified as the words left my mouth, hitting my ears like the sound of a screaming child wailing for his mother’s attention. The word “bicycle” hung in the air like a stale fart and I could feel my face tightening in embarrassment. Luckily I was dealing with two professionals that took my fart smelling word and turned it into the smell of freshly baked cookies. These guys were funny and quick and before I knew it, I was back in the safety of my seat enjoying the rest of their set.
I had somehow survived my first brush with improv and left with a battle scar but also a smile on my face. If you find yourself in Williston Vermont on the 22nd of July then I would strongly suggest you check out Oscars Bistro & Bar but before you rush through your meal and head off to see Captain America: The First Avenger, check out the improv comedy stylings of The Chris and Matt Show. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.