Up a narrow stairway off Coral Way, in a windowless backroom on the second floor, a young man screams, "I don't know which medications I'm taking anymore! I want to be me, but I don't know who that is!"
Sweat gathers on his wide sideburns. He hasn't yet changed out of his polo shirt from the cell-phone store where he works, though the shirt is wrinkled at the hem from having been tucked in all day.
"Good," Mike Nato mouths. Nato is boyish even in his early 40s, with messy blond hair atop his head and lines around his eyes that make him look like he's laughing even when he isn't. He has told his student to "think of the color black and try to embody that color." But before beginning the exercise, he warns in earnest, "I once gave a student orange, and it broke him. He just stood there, and then he broke."
The unadorned off-white walls and mismatched chairs seem better suited for an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting than an improvisational comedy class, but that's exactly what Nato is teaching.
"I don't want this," his student bellows, a freight elevator door behind him instead of a curtain. He's trembling, his round face turning red. "Nobody sees me."
"And scene!" Nato barks. The six other class members applaud more than politely. "I'm just glad I gave you black instead of orange," he says.
The class includes a shaggy stoner hanging off a dining room chair and a clean-cut, square-jawed man who later acts out the color green as a financier who says, "I'm gonna drop my balls on your face." There's also a giant whose face bears patches of gray stubble and who clutches his side thanks to a recent bicycle accident. He will be assigned purple and deliver a harrowing monologue of having been abused as a child.
Just the Funny -- that's what the bright yellow sign says in front of the 108-seat theater. Founded in 1999, it's one of Miami's longest-running improv groups and winner of five New Times Best of Miami awards. Later in the class, the cell-phone salesman will not be able to stop laughing when playing a convict with a foot fetish who's lusting after his cellmate's socks. But when he strays too close to shtick, Nato stops him.
"Don't distract yourself with jokes," he says. "Find something truthful and the jokes will come."
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