Improv 101 

Exploring Portland's Off-the-Cuff Comedy

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IF YOU'VE BEEN READING this or any other local paper, you've probably heard that Portland's comedy scene has taken off. You know that we've got talented local stand-up comics, two big annual comedy festivals, a handful of comedy clubs, and nationally known stand-up comedians making Portland a regular stop on their tours.

But stand-up isn't the only form of comedy that Portland has to offer: It's time to talk about improv.

There are two main forms of improvisational comedy: short-form, a game-based format with shorter scenes and specific rules (think Whose Line Is It Anyway?), and long-form, which takes more time and gives improvisers more freedom to develop characters and plot. Both types are completely made up on the spot, often inspired by suggestions solicited from the audience, and both types are being done well in Portland, if you know where to look.

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Whiskey Tango

Formed for competition at Curious Comedy's popular semimonthly improv cage match, Friday Night Fights, Whiskey Tango is one of the most promising troupes around. The group is made up of Leon Anderson, Nathan Loveless, Sam De Roest, Jed Arkley, and Gabe Dinger, and directed by Jake Michels.

These men do what they like to call "gentlemen's improv," which as far as I can tell just means consistently good, character-based long-form improv by handsome fellas in suit jackets. After winning the first six Friday Night Fights, they began applying to improv festivals, playing to a sold-out crowd at the 11th annual Los Angeles Improv Comedy Festival in June. September found them at the Vancouver International Improv Festival in Canada, and October 25 marked the first show of their new monthly series, Ladies and Gentlemen, where different ladylike guests will join them each month. (Sam De Roest and Jake Michels will perform together this week at Friday Night Fights at Curious Comedy Theater, 5225 NE MLK, Fri Nov 1, 10 pm, $5)

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The Liberators/Administration

The Liberators have been the standout improv troupe in town for years. The team—Shelley McLendon, John Breen, Tony Marcellino, and Nicholas Kessler—has been at it since 2006, and they're still going strong. They're all masters of the craft and their years of working together have made them effortlessly comfortable with taking risks onstage. Their upcoming show at the IFCC will feature Mercury writer and comic Alex Falcone telling stories based on audience suggestions, which will in turn inspire improv scenes. (Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, 5340 N Interstate, Sat Nov 2, 8 pm, $12-15)

Earlier this year, the Liberators began building an improv supergroup. They invited certain experienced improvisers from other groups around town to audition to be coached by, and perform with, the Liberators themselves. That group became Administration, with Erin O'Regan, Janet Rivera, Chris Williams, Jed Arkley, Jess Lee, and Jay Flewelling. They now play independent shows around town.

In addition to these groups, local comedy clubs host regular improv shows: ComedySportz is a family-friendly club showcasing short-form improv games. Brody Theater, in Old Town, offers a rotating variety of short-form and long-form shows. Curious Comedy, a nonprofit on NE MLK, produces several improv shows, including the improvised musical Pipes, as well as hosting touring improv groups, stand-up, and sketch comedy. At the Funhouse Lounge, the Unscriptables are currently running a Halloween show billed as "Scooby-Doo meets Saw." And then there is Impulse, the all-teen improv troupe that dominated for 10 consecutive wins at Curious Comedy's Friday Night Fights improv battles—proof positive that improv in Portland has a bright future ahead of it.

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