In keeping with timeless trends of the comedy scene, a faded brick wall serves as the backdrop at the Amherst comedy club ComedySportz, but what takes place in front of it is anything but expected.
ComedySportz replaces the straightforward jokes and strategic punch lines of traditional stand-up routines with theatrical skits that crackle with rapid-fire humor. The comedians reinvent what it means to be funny, depending on quick wit, proficient timing and far-reaching ideas to sustain their sketches. And instead of a solitary comedian feeding jokes into a microphone, two teams compete against each other in a series of games that put players to the test.
The club’s website describes the competition as “fast-paced, family-friendly improvisational comedy, played as a sport.” If the name wasn’t indication enough, ComedySportz draws heavily from the format of a sporting match. The most affable referee I’ve ever seen keeps the structure of the event itself while acting as a moderator between the audience and the players. Jerseys are essential to the image of any sporting event, so, naturally, the comedians are clad in the colors of their team. One might even compare the discipline of an athlete to that of a player.
Under time limits usually too tight for even a breath of hesitation, performers create bold characters and whimsical plots out of ideas provided by the audience. Random suggestions from the “loyal fans” keep recycled material out of the sketches.
Justin “Time for Dinner” Green, a senior at Cardinal O’Hara High School, is the youngest player/comedian/employee of ComedySportz Buffalo. Over the course of three years, Justin has performed in Richmond, Va., and Chicago, and he helped his team triumph over the competitors in the 26th ComedySportz World Championship, held in Buffalo.
Before auditioning for the group at age 14, Justin took improv classes through ComedySportz and, to his surprise, discovered that he enjoyed what he today calls “building a reality.” He used an example that stemmed from an earlier show in which he and another player acted as husband and wife.
“In real life, you wouldn’t have three wives just because your [original] wife was talking too much,” Justin said, “but because that’s what we built, that’s the reality that formed.”
Knowing that Justin’s partner had no idea he would fabricate additional wives made his partner’s ability to crack one-liners and create plot twists seem as magical as the ability to pull a bunny out of a top hat and much more useful. But these skills aren’t the result of wizardry; they just require knowledge, a sense of humor, and lots and lots of practice.
For teenagers interested in learning to build their own realities, Justin will be offering a beginners’ class. Students will learn about character building through a game called “Yes, and …,” in which students finish a statement like, “Yes, it’s a beautiful day, and …” They’ll also develop their observational skills by calling on characteristics that stand out to them, such as hair-twirling or obnoxious laughing, that add life as well as hilarity to their characters.
Though the format of the classes isn’t the same regular ComedySportz performances, it will provide the same loose, engaging atmosphere beneficial to building confidence and experimenting with this medium of comedy. Justin encourages teenagers of any skill level to try it out, because “it’s less about how much you’ve done, but more about what you’re willing to do.”
Classes at ComedySportz for teens begin in March. For more information, visit buffalocsz.com.