Do you like American Idol, The Voice and…[insert competitive reality show here]? Do you like “March Madness”? Then you’ll love Washington Improv Theater (WIT)’s cheerfully exuberant mash-up Fighting Improv Smackdown Tournament (FIST). For five weeks, 58 teams will battle each other for the right to be crowned FIST champion. In its sixth year, FIST features three-person improv teams who are allotted 12 minutes to win over the crowd with no holds barred. The format is longform improv – there are no rules and nothing is sacred – and the performance I saw included riffs on Krispy Kreme, snake/man love, gnomes, and mall food courts. Even the team names reflected that kind of random humor: “Mama’s Got an SUV”; “Mission Improvable: In 3D”; “Steamed Broccoli”; and “Shark Tank.”
Like many competitive reality shows, there were innocuous hosts/improv guides (Juliet Mazer-Schmidt and David Sewell for the performance I saw) but the fates of the teams are ultimately left to the audience who vote via paper ballots. While the votes are being tabulated, one of WIT’s house improv teams “(Commonwealth” on my night) performs. This is a clever way for WIT to showcase and advertise their in-house talent, which also included a plug for their classes.
What I found the most interesting is that WIT improv-ers of any skill level could enter their own three-person team so you are never sure what you’ll see in terms of experience and quality. One of the unique features of improv is that it clearly shows the strengths and weaknesses of both individual players and the chemistry of the team from the first time a word is collected from the audience. As a result, I enjoyed two of the four teams very much and spent much of the time the other two were performing cringing as awkward silences and unfunny jokes took over. But because each team is only allowed 12 minutes, no one overstays their welcome. This is a perfect night of entertainment for folks with short attention spans.
But ultimately even the teams I didn’t really enjoy elicited some laughs and I realized that’s what I love about improv. Good or not-as-good, the players are fearless, it’s a different show every night, the jokes are often hilariously inappropriate and in the case of FIST, everyone loves a good competition. So wear your team colors, DVR that important basketball game, and be ready to laugh all month long.
FIST plays through April 7, 2012 at Source – 835 14th Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 204-7770, or purchase them online.
Here’s the list of the FIST teams.
Here’s some highlights of the March 2010 FIST.