Nothing but a laughing matter
BY KAREN SHADE World Scene Writer
Sunday, February 14, 2010
2/14/10 at 2:36 PM
They don't have three rings or wear clown makeup — at least not as a rule. What they do have are theaters for playgrounds and audiences who find themselves unexpectedly drawn into the game.
Comedy in Tulsa fluctuates with the regularity of an amateur open-mic night. Sometimes it's there, and other times crickets set in like the eleventh plague.
But what the comedy folks in town — whether they're in improvised comedy teams or in stand-up — know is that they are ready to go regardless of what lies ahead. If not for the camaraderie among troupes and other comics, who knows which cracks they each could fall into. Come to think of it, they're pretty good at tumbles, too.
Witty, physical, fast-paced and a touch of wickedness are the hallmarks of a good improv, but players (as they are called) would be nothing without some form of structure. So just what does it take to be quick on the draw when the audience demands unscripted comedy on the spot? Spontaneity requires both rules and practice.
For stand-ups hard at work writing new material, that kind of skill couldn't hurt, either.
Laughing Matter Improv
Call it the elder statesman of improvised comedy in Tulsa. That's right — Laughing Matter has been uniquely "off book" for more than 20 years. In improv, performers make it up as they go along, but it's all done within limits.
For all these years, Heller Theatre has taught locals from the community the art of funny and how to wing it through Laughing Matter's weekly rehearsals. It's a program that frequently mixes those who have been in it for years with those taking their first steps. It culminates in live shows at Heller and a constant stream of new faces mixed with the familiar.
Joel Cheatham, who runs the program at Heller, said new people can affect the consistency of the show, but they also bring new ideas, changing the dynamic of the night.
"The key to community theater is actually having the community. It's your neighbors and your friends and meeting new people you don't know. As long as you have a sense of humor you can come out and try this and have fun," Cheatham said.
If you've been around Tulsa's local theater scene for a while, you'll see a lot of familiar faces whenever the Spontaniacs attack a stage.
Sally Adams, George Nelson, Eric Peterson, Angie Mitchell and Jarrod Kopp make up the group that has performed at the Summit Club, Nightingale Theatre and private engagements. Some people assume they're working from a script, Adams said, but everything on stage is made up on the spot, including their masterpiece.
"Our signature is definitely the soap opera," Adams said.
Here's how it works: "We get two object words from the audience, and then we create a soap opera around these words," she said. "There are a lot of constructs around the soap opera like you have to name your characters three times in a scene or you have to tap out or take over (sounds like wrestling). Those are structures to make a scene flow."
Another key is to reincorporate certain words or ideas back into the sketches throughout the night. With the audience calling the shots and setting the scenes, you can think of it a little as "Mad Libs Live!"
Improv comedy draws an audience of mostly adults. At a Crayons Improv show, however, the people who gather at the Agora Coffeehouse, for instance, are of a decidedly younger demographic. Perhaps that has to do with the youthful troupe of Dan Wooten, Andrew McQuary, Brittany Teague, Lee Miller and Nicole Cates. Crayons is a rainbow of exuberance getting its foot in the Tulsa night life.
"It's not a kid show," Cates said, "but if your kids are there, you won't get embarrassed or have to cover their ears."
The act began out of a church group in 2007 and has been growing a supportive fan base that has come to recognize recurring characters such as a whispery-voiced radio talk show host wielding scattered love advice. The audience really likes that one.
"They come because they can have the kind of show they want to have," Cates said. "It's very casual and laid-back."
The Comedy Clinic
Since about 2002, the Comedy Clinic docs have had a difficult time finding a homebase venue for their act. It hasn't blocked them from finding success, though.
For the last few years, dance club Jewel, in Brookside, was that home. With the club closed until further notice for renovations, the trio of Ben Beckham, Maria Gus and Jeff Turner have peddled their own off-the-cuff humor around town — most recently at The Bar in south Tulsa.
Turner said improv is the foundation, but you may catch a little stand-up from time to time.
"We're looking for that one-liner every few lines to try to get the big laugh," Turner said. "Our crowd isn't looking for traditional improv."
And by moving south, Turner said he feels that the clinic might have tapped into a new market of people uninterested in heading downtown for entertainment.
A Murder of Comics
Technically, it's stand-up, but if anyone's calling predictions on what a night with a Murder of Comics is like, they might as well head for the ATM for a hefty withdrawal. Spontaneity is infectious.
A Murder of Comics isn't a formal group, but rather a bunch of local comedians who met at the Loony Bin Comedy Club on open-mic nights and collectively booked spaces like the Nightingale Theater once a month for a showcase.
"We came up with a fairly tight-knit group devoted to practice," said Corey Douglas of the group.
And that name? "Well, we're a group, and like a murder of crows, we're a murder of comics. If you do your job poorly, then you die."
Among the ranks are Hilton Price, Dan Fritschie, Jay Dee, Josh Mills, Susan Freeman and others committed to honing the skill. And for kicks they throw in the occasional sketch comedy. Mostly, however, it's one person on stage alone and in the proverbial firing line.
"We've got everything from PG to a strong R on material — pretty much what you'd expect to see on an evening on Comedy Central," he said.
But you'll have decide if that comparison stands.
Where to find them
The Comedy Clinic
The next show is scheduled
for April 17 with the place yet
to be determined. You can find
the clinic online at tulsaworld.com/comedyclinic for the latest
The gang performs once a
month at Agora Coffeehouse,
4959 S. 79th East Ave. The next
show is set for March 12, and
tickets are $5. Find them online
at tulsaworld.com/crayons for special
benefit performances and a
Laughing Matter Improv
The next scheduled show is
April 16 at Heller Theatre, 4825
S. Quaker Ave., but if you want
to give it a try, improv classes are
5:30-7 p.m. Wednesdays. You
can find out more at tulsaworld.com/heller, or by calling 746-
A Murder of Comics
The comics don’t have a
standing engagement currently,
but you can watch several of
them at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the
Loony Bin, 6808 S. Memorial
Drive, for an all-local showcase.
You’re also likely to catch many
of them at open-mic night at 8
p.m. every Wednesday, also at
the club. Check out the Loony
schedule at tulsaworld.com/loonybin,
or call 392-5653.
True to their name, the Spontaniacs
schedule their gigs as
they can get them. For now, the
group is taking a small break,
but they are getting ready for
new live shows and a radiostyle
program in the next few
months. If you can’t wait, you
can watch them in action online at tulsaworld.com/spontaniacs, or
find them on Facebook.com for
Karen Shade 581-8334
The colorful Crayons Improv group are the new kids in town when it comes to Tulsa comedy troupes, but don't be fooled by their youth. They'll make you laugh.Courtesy
Sally Adams (left) and Angie Mitchell of the Spontaniacs.Tulsa World file photo
Ben Beckman (left), Maria Gus and Jeff Turner of the Comedy Clinic.Courtesy
Miriam Mills (left) and Gwynedd Vetter-Drusch of Laughing Matter. JAMES/GIBBARD/Tulsa World
Dan Fritschie shoots 'em up with stand-up comedy and the occasional sketch piece with his pals in A Murder of Comics.Courtesy