I wrote this article for a local magazine that went out of print before my issue was released. It might as well not go to waste, so here you go. Check out our improv company at Stages Theater in Fullerton, CA every weekend.
There is nothing quite like the feeling that comes from bringing humor to a room full of strangers. The idea that individuals with different backgrounds, experiences, and points of view can be united for a few brief moments by the spontaneous eruption of laughter is something that is both magical and intoxicating. When you are the cause of such an emotional response, you are momentarily transformed into a sort of healer. You are able to provide a period of childish escape in a world that expects nothing short of supreme adulthood at all times. This is how I feel as a performer of improv comedy.
Now, let us pause right there for a moment. You see, this is generally the precise moment in the conversation when I am asked if improv is the same as stand-up comedy. This is usually followed by the snap of a finger and the demand that I tell a joke. It is in these moments that I wonder if my pale, tattooed skin has shriveled away to reveal my true identity as a trained dancing monkey. Oh, the hardships of being a comedian…
Let us eliminate some of the confusion. Let us knead that dough of misunderstanding into something tasty and full of nuts. According to the Official Dictionary of Sir Chase’s Brain, improvisational comedy is a form of theater in which scenes, gimmicks, and characters are created on the spot based on suggestions given by the audience. There are no scripts to memorize, no sets to build, and no characters to cast. Improv is simply an art of “the now,” and it is up to the skilled performers on stage to fuse their imaginations together to create something that is compelling and entertaining. There…misunderstanding has been thoroughly kneaded.
I began to learn the craft of improv comedy as an odd, skinny drama student at Glendora High School. Between periods of “solving” math problems, reading in strange accents, and galloping through the halls like a lost member of Monty Python, I met with other like-minded students and practiced the art of making things up. Led by our mentor and former student, Joshua Nicols, we learned to continuously add to scenes, create strong characters, and refrain from killing everyone and everything on stage. Since that time, I have performed in hundreds of shows in many different venues, and I have enjoyed every second of it.
In 2005, I formed The Lobby improv troupe with Joshua and our mutual friend Matthew Thomas. Our goal was to create a comedic weapon with enough potency to end war, solve world hunger, and win every nerdy trivia contest this side of Tatooine. Though we solved exactly zero hungers and ended almost no wars, we found a bit of comfort in our above average nerdiness. With the help of our teammates (Alex Herrera, Carl Enter, DJ O’Hea, and Christopher Floch), we forged a path of humor through the lands and secured a stable of wonderful and loyal fans. We performed for several years in various venues before finding a permanent home in Fullerton at Stages Theatre. Since finding this gem of a venue, we have expanded The Lobby into an improv company known as the Spectacles Improv Engine. This company has prided itself in using innovation and an uncompromising attitude to create quality shows and has become a haven for both comedians and fans in the Orange County Area.
There seems to be a common belief that one must travel all the way to the pit of Los Angeles in order to watch an improv show. This belief is so strong, some people have been known to scoff uncontrollably at the very idea that an improv show could occur anywhere other than some dark cavernous underground club in Los Angeles. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, if you were to put your ear to the ground at this very moment…well, you would probably look very silly. However, you would also find that improv has a heartbeat in Orange County, and that heartbeat is growing stronger every day. Soon it will become a rumbling stampede of humor that could take over the world and make an orphan out of small cartoon lions named Simba! Perhaps that is a bit too far…
The point is, improv is expanding in the good ol’ OC, and it is a direct result of hard work and calculated risks. This attitude is what has led the Spectacles Improv Engine, and it is what has driven the company to create events such as the Orange County Improv Cup and the Orange County Improv Festival. These two events have worked to unite the improv community by bringing together teams and players from across the country while raising awareness about our craft, offering classes for experts and newcomers alike, and raising money for charity.
The Orange County Improv Cup is a two day improv competition that features head to head battles of wit in an effort to achieve the supreme title of Champion and support children with serious medical conditions by raising money for The Painted Turtle charity. Over the past four years, The Cup has brought improvisers together with a purpose that goes beyond entertainment, and it has proven to be an important part of comedic culture in Southern California. Apart from that, it has the distinction of having me as a former champion, which is most certainly the best part.
Day one of The Cup consists of each team performing with another team while three professional and respected judges watch the performances and decide who will move on to the second day. Day two consists of single elimination play with audience participation, and the remaining teams do their best to win over the crowd and obtain the amount of votes necessary to become the new Improv Cup Champions. It is an exciting, energetic event that has satisfied everyone involved and has succeeded in raising more than $11,000 for The Painted Turtle charity. Think about that from an improviser’s perspective for a moment: children’s lives have been improved due to childish adults getting on stage and making people laugh. Events like this are humbling to be a part of and prove that the Orange County improv scene has a life of its own that is growing with every breath. The 2014 Improv Cup will take place at Stages Theatre on the week of November 15th.
Since creating The Cup, the members of the Spectacles Improv Engine have again taken it upon themselves to create another important event for improv in Orange County. In 2013, the first annual Orange County Improv Festival took place. The event was a celebration of improv that united the community and shared new entertainment with fans of comedy. Featuring all the local favorites as well as teams from all over the country who have studied or played at iO, Upright Citizens Brigade, Second City, Comedy Sportz, Groundlings, Annoyance, Westside Comedy, Dad’s Garage, and Acme Comedy Theatre, the Orange County Improv Festival showed that improv comedy is alive and well in the United States. The event was successful in bringing new awareness to the craft and new fans to the OC improv scene, and it is returning March 13th through 15th to celebrate improv again.
Over the last dozen or so years, I have been learning and performing the art of improv comedy. I have performed on stages, in bars, at holiday parties, at colleges, and alone in the bathroom. I have taken every opportunity to better my skills and hone my many personalities in an effort to benefit my colleagues. As a result, I have been able to take part in the creation of a fantastic group of comedians in the Lobby Improv, as well as an innovative and growing company in The Spectacles Improv Engine. Together, our goal is to continue the growth of improv in Orange County and bring more attention to the craft that we all love. If in the process we are awarded some small country or a boatload of chocolate milk, then my secret mission will have been a success. Keep laughing, friends.
Sir Chase Hooper is a writer and comedian from Southern California.
Get info for all of the Spectacles Improv Engine shows at
Help support The Painted Turtle charity at