If you like Saturday Night Live, you probably like improv comedy. Many of SNL's biggest names cut their teeth in improv troupes; it's where Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Bill Murray, Will Ferrell, and many others honed their skills. Poehler is a founder of New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade; Fey and Murray are both grads of Second City in Chicago; and Ferrell got his career off the ground with the Groundlings in L.A.
If it feels unfair that those other metropolises are hotbeds for comedy and Miami isn’t, now is the time to discover all the comedy the Magic City offers.
The 2017 Miami Improv Festival, presented by Four Points by Sheraton Coral Gables and Just the Funny, is the latest installment of a comedy fest founded by David Christopher in 2003. Looking to inspire the performers and entertain audiences in new ways, Christopher created the event as a way to bring one of the most viable forms of live comedy to a new audience and reinvigorate the scene.
“I created the Miami Improv Festival back in 2003 because improv in Miami was pretty much marginalized. We were all kind of doing the same thing, and we really needed to stretch our legs and stretch our boundaries," Christopher says, "and we didn’t have the exposure to all the different types of improv that were out there. We created the festival in order to bring in different groups, different acts, different types of sketch comedy that would broaden our horizon.”
Now a veteran entering his 22nd year in the business, Christopher began doing improv as “a way to express
“I’ve learned that to try to perform in your own thing is a very nerve-wracking thing, just because you have so many things going on. Now we manage two stages in our own venue, so when you have two shows going on simultaneously, it’s already difficult to perform. It’s really a challenge, and it’s really not that much fun because you’re so worried about everything else.”
In fact, 2017 is the festival’s biggest year yet. “We’ve got everything from dramatic improv to musical improv to puppet improv to sketch comedy.” The lineup includes national acts from Boston, Chicago, Columbus, New York, and San Francisco, as well as plenty of homegrown talent.
“Another thing we’re really proud of this year is the largest South Florida and Florida representation that we’ve ever had before. That really speaks to the quality in Florida. It’s a juried festival; it’s not by invitation. You have to submit a portfolio, a video is part of that package, and it’s juried, scored, and it’s peer-reviewed basically in order to get into the festival. It’s something you have to earn.”
Also on the agenda: a series of workshops and classes teaching a diverse range of topics, from how to have more fun doing improv to making up a Broadway musical on the spot. There's even one, Christopher notes, on "finding out what’s wrong with you, which is exactly the name of that workshop: What’s Wrong With Me? It’s about getting some real, direct, one-on-one feedback from an improv guru out of Chicago.”
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Most classes are for experienced performers, but for those just starting out, Christopher recommends the sketch comedy workshops and something called All Form: "[It's] a really great way to learn improv in a fast, dirty way from one of the best coming out of Boston.”
It's all in service of exposing audiences to a style of comedy that rarely gets its due.
“You’ve watched Saturday Night Live or Whose Line Is It Anyway? and said, 'I really like that; I wonder why it’s not here,'" Christopher says. "It is, and this is the perfect way to get introduced to that.”
2017 Miami Improv Festival
7 p.m. Thursday, January 12, through Sunday, January 15, at Just the Funny Theater & Training Center, 3119 Coral Way, Second Floor, Miami; 305-693-8669; themiamiimprovfestival.com; Tickets cost $32 to $70 for single-day passes and $175 for a full festival pass, which allows passholders to skip the lines for priority seating. Classes cost $120 each. Visit ticketweb.com.