Representatives from more than 22 improvisational comedy groups from across the United States – and two from Europe – will descend on Buffalo next week for the ComedySportz World Championship.
The four-day event – featuring workshops, public performances and impromptu improv sessions stretching into the early morning hours – kicks off on Wednesday in the Town Ballroom. In the first match, Buffalo’s own venerable ComedySportz team, founded in 1993, will face off against Portland at 7 p.m.
By midnight July 13, after that evening’s 10 p.m. championship match, one team will emerge victorious. In the meantime, Buffalo will become ground zero for the international trade association, whose members make up one of the more enduring improv comedy organizations in the world.
The ComedySportz concept, created by Dick Chudnow in Milwaukee in 1984, was inspired by the Canadian-born Theatersports enterprise. Chudnow gave it a resolutely sports-themed look and feel, incorporating uniformed referees and devising time limits and a point system that seemed to place the event somewhere between the WWE and Second City-style improv comedy.
Chudnow, in a phone interview, described the ComedySportz ethos as family friendly, relatively foolproof and pretty much guaranteed to be goofy. While the organization isn’t exactly beloved by edgy or independent-minded improv comics, Chudnow said its formula is responsible for its success.
“We do short-form, which offends a lot of improv people. All you have to do is play the game, it’s a pretty sure thing. You don’t have to be a genius. Matter of fact, if you’re a genius you probably can’t do it,” he said. “We were called the McDonalds of improv. They thought that was an insult, but I thought that was a compliment.”
For Buffalo ComedySportz Vice President Richard Satterwhite, the city’s first time hosting the championship is proof positive of his group’s increased stability and popularity over the past half-decade.
“We lobbied very hard to get it, and in our 20th year in existence we had proven to our leadership that Buffalo could not only handle the ComedySportz World Championship but that we would do it and do it well,” said Satterwhite, who added that all proceeds from the week’s events will be donated to Carly’s Club, a charity associated with Roswell Park Cancer Institute. “In the past four years since we’ve been governed by a board, we’ve had tremendous growth as an organization.”
Buffalo’s team performs weekly in its home in a small theater in Snyder, though all events this week will take place in and around the Town Ballroom. Satterwhite attributes some of the popularity of the group locally to Buffalo’s obsession with sports, which he said plays into the audience’s experience of their shows.
“It is a competition between two teams for points. There are penalties, there are fouls, there’s a referee, we sing a national anthem before we start. We have a PA announcer and also a jumbo screen operator,” he said. “Not only can they cheer on the teams but they also offer up the fodder for which we create the comic magic on stage.”
During this week’s championship, which features 16 matchups from Wednesday through next Thursday, the national organization will host workshops for team members on everything from improv techniques to working with the businesses that account for many of ComedySportz performances here and around the country. Mostly though, Satterwhite and Chudnow agreed, the confab is a chance for improv fans from around the world to get together and do what they love.
“There’ll be a group of people who, they’ll go to a room ... where they’ll play games until 5 in the morning,” Chudnow said. “It’s a bunch of people who love to play, and that’s what makes it pretty amazing.”