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‘Improv Asylum’ provides a crazy good time

Published: November 11, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.


We were crammed into a hot and sweaty basement surrounded by slightly drunk people. The group settled behind us was a little too drunk, laughing too loudly at nothing. We were sitting there, waiting for the show to begin, a little nervous.

That was how my evening at Improv Asylum in the North End began last weekend. I had no clue as to what to expect and was shocked at how many drunken people were there. But my misgivings were assuaged once the lights went out and the show began.

Improv Asylum’s improv and sketch comedy show was a blast. Nearly every joke landed, leaving the audience in stitches. With a decent balance between prepared sketches and improvisation, the six comedians in the center of the room showed verve and wit throughout the show. They kept things fresh with dialogue, song and dance, and their minimal use of props and costumes allowed the audience to focus on the comedy rather than the flash.

I enjoyed the scripted sketches a bit more than the improv, although both were entertaining. One of the best sketches featured the four most talented of the comedians. In this sketch Matt Catanzano plays a frustrated principal who has called in two parents, Evan Kaufman and Jane Blaney, to discuss bullying. Kaufman immediately begins to sympathize with the principal, saying how difficult it can be to deal with bullying and how he himself remembers his harsh days in school when he was called “douche-stick.” The principal is quick to correct the parents and tell them that their son is in fact the bully—bullying other bullies.

At this point Daniel Faneuf comes on stage, taller than everyone else there, as their middle school-aged son. The parents are at first horrified that their son is beating up other children … until they hear that the nerds are calling him the Dark Knight. Because that is just awesome! Faneuf does a hilarious Bale-esque Batman impression as his parents pat him on the back for being so bad-ass. Meanwhile, Catanzano has a near panic attack, trying to get everyone to remember that bullying is a bad thing to do. The sketch ended when Faneuf, who is more than a foot taller than Catanzano, lifted Catanzano onto his shoulders and carried him, pleading, from the stage.

Catanzano and Blaney were clearly the best comedians, however, and they brought a certain dynamism to every scene they were in. During one improvisation, Catanzano was playing a boy lost in a cave and Blaney was skulking around quite creepily and asking him funny questions. While the sketch itself was not so funny, their energy made it worthwhile.

While all the actors were good, some were not as good as others. Trevor Livingston and Patty Barrett were not as good and their humor seemed more juvenile and less polished, even in the prepared sketches. I was not shocked when I saw in the playbill that Barrett was an understudy.

Despite this, one of my favorite sketches of the evening featured the two of them. They played a young couple who were trying to get a night of romance but awkward Livingston can’t stop talking about Magic Kingdom and he is somewhat unwilling to take down the giant picture of him and his parents. Then, as the two are trying to sex each other up, the sexy mix-tape his brother made him begins spewing out his brother’s sex advice. We were given gold such as, “Remember, this is a journey. You want to make sure that you both get to your destination.” Barrett kept pulling back, clearly freaked out, because Livingston’s mix-tape kept talking about her “destination” and her “mood.”

The coup de grace was delivered when they swapped out mix-tapes and suddenly Barrett’s mother can be heard advising her daughter.

Another great moment, for the audience as a whole and for my group and me in particular, was when a Brandeis psychology graduate student was called on stage for his birthday. After eliciting some facts from him about his life, such as how he met his girlfriend, also a Brandeis psych grad student, while playing intramural basketball, the actors put on quite the show. They had psychology jokes, philosophy jokes when one of them got a little confused, Brandeis jokes, basketball jokes and so on. Their tech guy even put a photo of Brandeis up on their monitors.

The reason the show worked so well was because of the atmosphere. Although the theater-in-the-square format of their theater, which is housed under a CVS, did sometimes limit our view, the actors were loud and could be heard over the raucous laughter. And, although the audience seemed to be comprised of semi-inebriated people in their late 20s, the people sitting around us really did contribute to the relaxed atmosphere. One of my friends remarked to me, “I love it here. You can laugh as loudly as you want.” And laugh loudly we did.